Everything needs a trial run; a dry try to work out the kinks. Recipes, for instance. Wearing stiletto-heeled boots for the first time. Weddings, even. New plays are no exception. A "world premiere" can be a fancy way of saying "experimental test-run." The debut of Killsville, Stark Raving Theatre's season opener and the latest from New York playwright David Todd, needs some calibration before it rings right.
The plot starts out clearly enough. The story's psychological drama centers around Duane, a prodigal son who returns after a decade to his childhood home. Instead of his parents, a tough-looking janitor named Killer answers the door. Killer claims to have no memory of the boy's family, but has all of their furniture and wears the clothes of Duane's father. But Killer is oddly accepting of Duane and takes him in, gets him a job at his old high school, and generously dispenses enigmatic, paternal advice.
Duane soon runs into Molly, the girl he jilted 10 years earlier who's now a teacher. Molly's kind of tough, but helplessly stuck in the past and, for some lobotomic reason, is still in love with the self-absorbed, greasy Duane. Duane has nary a tender word nor a manly swagger to turn the audience, or Molly, toward him. But she still has dreams of playing house with Duane and waking up together amid dewy mornings. Instead, she starts tutoring him for the GED (some girls love a fixer-upper).
The three begin to meet interchangeably against the background of the high school. It's an eerie atmosphere, cold and alienating. Molly target practices at the faculty shooting range. Killer digs a death memorial. Duane walks the halls.
It's obvious that Killer wants to help Molly. Molly wants Duane. And Duane wants something far more intangible. He wants out--out of the small town, out of his memories, out of the past. He longs to torch his childhood home, with or without Molly in it. But Duane has so much animosity for the present that's he's stuck in time. Believing in neither here nor there, he doesn't go anywhere, but just sulks around with his janitor's broom, pushing Molly's heart around. Soon the three are living together in the shadow of Duane's old house, each shoving their needs on the other with grinding pressure.
Killsville's premise has a lot of promise, but is somewhat muddled in the execution. Instead of musing on the finer points of memory and metaphorical suicide, the audience gets stuck on the pairing of Molly and Duane. There's no logic--or chemistry--behind it. The gigantic chip on Duane's shoulder is never explained, so we're left with a seemingly shallow character. Killer, the tough-on-the-outside, gooey in the middle janitor, weights the show. He fills out Todd's witty, literary writing with appropriate punch. Killer doesn't believe in memories himself, yet he has a wisdom that belies his working-class background. "People choose to be forgotten," he tells Duane. It's true, but plays have no choice. Killsville may be remembered for its abrupt, inconclusive ending, or perhaps, not at all.