Amanda Hale's gawky, stroppy Laney has just moved to the South with her mum, Suzan Sylvester's Elise. We gather her academic dad has, distressingly, become psychotic and been institutionalised, and Laney - at the same time as being an amusingly precocious wannabe writer - has developed dystonia, with seized-up muscles that make her look hunchbacked. At school, the only other kid who will speak to her is Debbie Chazen's Maribel (inset, with Amanda Hale). She is very fat, like a vast chatty marshmallow, educationally remedial due to incompetent home tutoring, and ostracised too.
Maribel proves to be hilariously evangelical, blithely plunging straight in with the conversational opener, "Have you ever asked Jesus into your heart?", and explaining that she's only asking in case, say, her new acquaintance were to get shot by a stray bullet that afternoon without having been saved. Her dad, she adds, is a preacher at the local Church of the Redeemer, "but we don't pick up snakes or drink poison, or any of that crazy stuff. Just full-submersion baptism, prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues," she concludes without batting an eyelid.
What's lovely about Mike Bradwell's production is its studio intimacy - with just white clapboard walls as a backdrop - combined with some very fine acting. In particular, Chazen manages to be ludicrously weird yet extraordinarily lovable, with a sexually frisky nature bubbling up through her rote about sin and the Devil. She's like one of Molière's comic rustics, at once wanton and innocent, only with deeper psychological disorders brewing. At the preview that I caught, Hale was still negotiating one or two of her character's mood swings but, with Sylvester downplaying her mum's bruising clumsiness, Laney's climactic raging grief is really frightening.
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