'Killer Joe' a bit of a stretch for Single Carrot

theater review

March 01, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

You know how Mom always made you eat your vegetables? I can't help wishing she was around to stop the members of Single Carrot Theatre from slipping their broccoli under the table to the dog.

Baltimore's semiprofessional troupe of twentysomethings is talented and ambitious, but its members tend to eschew the meat-and-potatoes shows within their range in favor of caloric, less nutritious fare.

Take this production of Killer Joe. Tracy Letts' black comedy about Texas trailer park denizens who hire a hit man to murder a family member is a terrific play, but it poses challenges currently beyond the Carrots' abilities.

Brendan Ragan does a fine job as the title character, a corrupt detective who has a side job as a paid assassin. He doffs his cruel streak as casually as his 10-gallon hat.

But the other four cast members play characters less intelligent and more socially inept than themselves. The actors compensate by subtracting aspects of their own personalities from their characters, instead of adding to them; they hunch their shoulders and dim the light in their eyes. But that's a mistake. It's not that people with low IQs don't spend much time thinking. On the contrary, they're constantly scrambling to make sense of a large and bewildering world.

Joey Bromfield has designed a fabulously tacky set, from the duct-taped sofa to the grimy oven with a handle reduced to a dangling wire. But, when the stage is so small and close to the audience, it is all too easy to see when the on-stage violence is faked.

My guess is that the Carrots are picking plays similar to those they performed a few years ago as college students in Colorado.

But, while students are supposed to stretch themselves and test their limits, a fledgling theater company has different goals.

For now, this company could find its greatest success by mounting plays with a realistic narrative structure and young, bright, middle-class characters similar to the actors. One example was the company's impressive 2007 debut production of Red Light Winter.

Once the Carrots have mastered that genre, it will be time to branch out. All growing boys and girls know that if they chow down the cauliflower, turnips and green beans, they'll eventually get dessert.

killer joe

The play runs through March 15 at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Ave. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $10-$15. Call 443-844-9253 or go to www.singlecarrot.com.

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