“Wow, no…Damn. Damn.”
That was the narrative my wife had for the newest production from Adam Rapp; “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods,” which just opened tonight at the Theatre 80 St. Marks on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I may take it one step further and offer that family relationships are difficult, relationships between single widowed mothers, their stay at home golden child, their estranged eldest child, the memory of their deceased father, and the dynamic which is elicited from a mother who loves her son but disciplines him as though he were not a full two feet taller than her can be troubling. There is a reason the fringe is the fringe; this from a woman who hasn’t left the house! Of course these are things which are very difficult to understand. Even with all that there is but one thing to say:
Damn, Adam Rapp.
“Ghosts in the Cottonwoods,” is a co-production presented by the theatre company The Amoralists. The Amoralists mission statement is to “produce work of no moral judgment. Dedicated to the honest expression of the American condition.”
While I wonder about parties still suffering from this level of human condition replicated in “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods” in America broadly, on the Lower East Side in particular, they still are out there. I have traveled all over this nation of ours and I have interacted with parties who could belong in this subset. A group who goes about doing things the old fashioned way, doesn’t read, and is only in very loose ways even connected to the modern American experience. An element of society which still delivers justice in the Hammurabi style, rejects the teachings of the Bible, has copied the naming of children for generations, and who doesn’t apologize to anyone for the way which they live their lives. Nor should they.
“Ghosts in the Cottonwoods,” opens up on a rainy night in an “uncharted forest region between the interstate and the factory outlet in the southern Midwest.” Just to orient you, this is what the program says on the matter. “A single mother and her younger son await the arrival of the older son, who has broken out of prison. Two others arrive before him; a stranger with wounded leg and a girl with a suitcase. Nothing will ever be the same.”
Now, if you didn’t read that before the play started, you may have thought that this older son was just coming back home from a long job-placement. Maybe he got contracted out for some work, maybe he went off to sow his wild oats. It’s never really pinned down from the mom and the younger son is too interested in his free styling skill or the six Judyhouse sisters licking his head. But that’s if you can get the opening image from your head. Young son Pointer Scully (Nick Lawson) has rashes all over his body. So he’s naked. And mom, Bean Scully (the frighteningly stubborn Sarah Lemp) is sucking off the leeches which have left his wounds and spitting out the remnants into a bucket.
Bean and Pointer are waiting for the older son and mom seems as proud as punch. However another guy, Newton Yardly (the horridly unlucky William Apps) arrives with a bloody leg, saying he’s been randomly shot.
The story spills out from there and we are introduced to the lies we all tell ourselves and the lies we tell each other. Newt is not who he says he is, Pointer has a secret with one of the Judyhouse sisters, Shirley (the-chipper-as-a-jaybird, Mandy Nicole Moore) and there are other reasons for everyone on stage to be on guard.
Things really get interesting when Bean finally comes into contact with her older son Jeff (the for-the-most-part mute James Kautz). Jeff make a fairly grandiose entrance, brings along an interesting friend, and has written his illiterate mom a book. A 2,138 page book.
“Ghosts in the Cottonwoods” is equal parts human-family-drama and round-the-campfire fable. Yes, family relationships can be complicated and yes the theatre encourages honesty. I was struck with something that Adam Rapp said in his “director’s notes” in the program.
“It’s rare when you get a second chance at a play. it’s even rarer when you get a third or fourth chance. This story screamed out of some bleak part of my mind fifteen years ago. I never got it right.”
I love Adam Rapp’s words and I love Adam Rapp’s drama. I still am a little uncomfortable with the feelings which this play has unearthed. It may be though, that this screaming rebirth didn’t even get the chance to be the baby horse which Rapp believes it is.
View “Ghosts in the Cottonwoods” Trailer