Brutality of Fact
Theatre Vertigo
Through May 5

Few things seem shocking on stage any longer. Audiences are so inured to nudity and swearing that an all-nude production of The Wizard of Oz might be just down the yellow brick road. Which makes the moment in Brutality of Fact (Theatre Vertigo's final season offering) when the audience collectively gasps, all the more. . . well, shocking.

Her hair an '80s fright, Maggie (Ritah Parrish) is the alcoholic black sheep of an ever-shrinking family. When her sister, Jackie (Nanette Pettit) informs her that one of her sisters died months ago, and that mother Val (April Magnusson) is moving in with Jackie, Maggie's world begins its spiral out of control.

Not that Jackie's life is much better. Despite her fervent devotion to prostelizing for the Jehovah's Witnesses ("Watchtowers, anyone?") she's battling her ex-husband for custody of a daughter who's scared of her Jesus-freak ways, and dating a predatorily fanatical Jehovah's Witness lawyer, Chris (Tom Moorman).

Written by Keith Reddin, Brutality of Fact could have been yet another dreary mediation on how addictions to alcohol or religion can drive a family apart. And while it takes on that movie-of-the-week theme at times, a frequent use of bawdy and rapid-fire black humor, mainly delivered by Parrish and Magnusson, helps the medicine go down easily.

But beyond the trappings of the "J-Dubs" (as we used to call Jehovah's Witnesses), Brutality of Fact doesn't as much examine their religion as it does expose the frailties and insecurities which religious fanaticism hides. Ramrod prim in tied-back hair and long dresses, Pettit's Jackie isn't a showy role, even though she gets to drop to her knees in wailing prayer and pass judgment on everyone in her path; but then comes the moment. . .

Following a particularly vulgar exclamation by her mother, Jackie slaps her. Hard. And the audience broke out into nervous giggling and murmurs. Because in today's theatre scene (even more so on television and film with edits and carefully prepared stunts) rarely do you see one actor/character perpetrate actual, real, physical violence against another. All the implications this scene brings to Jackie's faith and control bubble to the forefront, and you know that of all the characters, she's the doomed one.

The acting is relatively strong across the boards, with Parrish, Magnusson, and Jennifer Healey (as a lesbian traveler) particular stand-outs. Direction by Jim Davis is unexceptional but solid, making a good use of minimalist stage. Be sure to explore the outer theatre area during intermission, and pick up the fake brochure for the play's TransGlobal airlines for some extra fun. Brutality of Fact may not rivet audiences the entire staging time, but it does contain some strongly dark comic dialogue, good performances, and one moment that shocks. How many shows do that anymore?