And this means that 21-year-old tweaker Clemson McAddy, whose sister Brittany has been pleading for help but whose hard-core, five-year addiction would normally put his case off limits, will be featured. Off goes Connie to a trailer park in Aiken, South Carolina, with novice camerawoman Tara and Ethan, the former producer of a show about "strippers rescuing cats" (no such show actually exists, but those strippers could do wonders for some of the cat collectors on Hoarders). Here things fall apart in all the predictable ways. Clemson has disappeared. Poor Brittany, who loves her brother but simply can't cope with his craziness while she's caring for her two children and dying mother, is at the end of her rope. Their brother Mackson thinks he knows about broadcasting and wants the family to profit from the show. And then the siblings' abusive father shows up, explaining that "Jesus...brought me to sobriety" and insisting that Jesus can do the same for Clemson -- who at this point has returned and is huddling on the sofa in a state of near-catatonic breakdown. And then comes another family revelation. All this would seem melodramatic and clichéd, except that the dialogue is intelligent, particularly the ironic commentary from Bernice, who's given to dry remarks like, "Heroin and oxy addicts, they shoot up, nod off -- it's like watching paint dry." We also know there are many families in this country as splintered and dysfunctional as the McAddys -- even if we haven't been watching reality TV.
The acting in this regional premiere by Ashton and Abster Productions is convincing, with touching performances by Christine Sharpe as Brittany and Lauren Bahlman as Connie, and refreshing draughts of cool irony from Abby Apple Boes's Bernice. Miriam Tobin is a wide-eyed Tara, Sam Gilstrap a genial Ethan, and Steef Sealy's father McAddy -- who's either prevaricating or completely befuddled -- is fun to watch. As Clemson, Ben Cowhick has every requisite twitch and shudder down perfectly.
Rob McLachlan is an actor, and this is his first play. While the script is sometimes a bit talky, setting out discussion points rather than bringing them to life through dramatic action, it's a promising work: interesting, entertaining, sometimes incisive. And as some of the area's larger institutions churn out safe and coma-inducing theater, it's also highly promising that smaller companies like this one are increasingly featuring productions that are new, fresh and alive.