Sowelu Theater Company

Good actors can make a good show, but they can't make the play. Sowelu Theater's production of Blue Night in the Heart of the West is extremely well acted and directed, but the text itself is a problem.

Written by James Stock, this is an absurdist black comedy concerning a Scottish lad, Andrew McAlpine (Chris Harder), coming to America to find, it seems, a region that shares his last name. Instead, he falls in with a family of incestuous Iowa farmers, led by Ruth Shreveport (Nan Gatchel) and her son Carl (Shawn Skvarka). It takes a while to catch on to all this. The play begins with a set piece in which Carl comes upon Ruth and seduces her, ending in a punch line that can discombobulate the unprepared viewer.

The text then hops around, often going down paths that prove to be about subsidiary characters--who may at times be fun--but are irrelevant, although it's hard to tell, given that it's difficult to figure out what the play wants to say beyond some vague complaints about American corruption.

But the evening isn't a total loss. Confusing as the play itself may be, it gives the actors room to do some fun work. All six cast members are good, but especially funny is Lorraine Bahr as a battered waitress seeking help from a palm reader. Though director Barry Hunt for the most part fully uses the limited 35-seat-room of the Back Door space effectively, the action does tend to bunch up toward the back of the stage near the end. But maybe that's a good thing, for by the end of this odd, incoherent text, you want as much distance from it as you can get.