There’s a terrific new show by Seattle playwright Courtney Meaker now playing in the Black Box theater at the Cornish Playhouse. "Buckshot" is the first show I’ve seen in that venue and it’s a little out of the way, but I guarantee that this show is worth the effort to find the place. An excellent cast, under the insightful and meticulous direction of Peggy Gannon, delivers a strong and believable story of a brother and sister who have to reunite with a creepy uncle who harmed them both when they were very young. Now in his decline, there is a special urgency to the complex process of retrieving, re-inventing and resolving memory in order that his life can end and theirs can go on. More than a play about trauma and recovery, it is a play about how the integration of our past becomes the only way in which we can create the immediacy and authenticity of our present. For all the complexity of those themes (which Gannon keeps clear and urgent) the play has a very natural sense of ordinary life, and that makes everything in it approachable and relevant.
Central to that dramatic balance is the performance of Katie Driscoll as Alana, a young woman who knows (even in ways that may not be conscious for her) that she cannot live a life with her lover and partner, Mel, unless she consolidates all the influences of her past. Megan Ahiers is excellent as Mel, bringing both a sense of adult independence and responsibility and a (comparatively) untangled freedom to their relationship. Their friends, Jax (Jordi Montes) and Jalyn (Narea Kang) urge the two women to be together, as they are together, but with only limited insight into the bondage of the past that Alana carries. Only Saul really knows. An old boyfriend, Booker (Randall Brammer) provides the opportunity for us to see the complex ways in which our memories meld and transform actual events, and how our values create a reality that may or may not correspond to the real world and real relationships. The central challenge for Alana is to make certain that her identity is consistent with what she remembers, and also that what she remembers is only partially responsible for who she is.
For that, the brother, Saul is critically important to Alana, because he was not only the other one to suffer that abuse, he was the one who tried, unsuccessfully to protect her when she was young. Daniel Wood was especially successful in creating an apparently superficial character who carries as great a depth as anyone in the story. I believed the relationship between the two siblings and I believed that their terrible shared history provided the definition of that relationship. Like Driscoll, Wood felt entirely contemporary, entirely ordinary, exactly the sort of person each of us runs into every day. That only made the extraordinary nature of their shared trauma even stronger, and even more relevant in that we can probably see that, or something like it, in the faces of everyone in our own lives.
That old Uncle Hal, played by Gianni Truzzi, was quite an acting achievement in itself. This guy was never a monster, in fact much more of a good guy, fun to be with uncle. Unless he had the children alone with him in the woods, where they could go hunting, and where he could do his hunting. I really admired the control and subtlety of Truzzi's characterization. We never see anything graphic enacted, and that makes all that happened back then remain trapped in the kid's minds, in their memories, in their realities. Still, we know who this guy was and the resolution of the play is the best of all possible dramatic endings - one which is both unexpected and inevitable.
I've seen quite a few plays about childhood abuse in one form or another, but this one was especially strong dramatically because it never tried to hype any of the drama. Again, Driscoll's natural, ordinary, decent and conflicted Alana was our path to that involvement. I am in deep admiration of Meaker's script, Gannon's direction and the cast's performance. This is really a show worth getting to and one which, I predict, will lead to rich and important conversations after.
PICTURED ABOVE: Daniel Wood & Katie Driscoll