Mixed emotions: Amy (Shelley Calene-Black) longs to leave her family, and Sam (Alex Kilgore) longs for one.
George Craig

In Jessica Goldberg's prize-winning Refuge, the world is a barren place for three siblings who find themselves on their own after their parents run off to Florida, leaving only the lame excuse that they "couldn't do it anymore."

Somewhere in her early twenties is Amy (Shelley Calene-Black), the unofficial matriarch of the clan. She cooks eggs, reads endlessly and tries to hold the family together, though she has all the warmth of a plastic doll. Amy wanders through the emotional wasteland of her overwhelming responsibilities, which she secretly wants to escape.

Her grown brother, Nat (Michael Kyle Sturdivant), is a basket case. He's "missing a bone back there," says Amy, indicating the back of the head. He spends his days watching television and waiting for Amy to fetch things for him. Then there's Becca (Anessa Ramsey), the 16-year-old rave-hopping sister who's into ecstasy and exotic clothes. Her logic is utterly adolescent. She takes drugs because she's "only 16" and has "plenty of time to straighten out."



runs through March 19 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway,

(713) 52-STAGES, $26-$37.

Into this twisted party of three comes Sam (Alex Kilgore), Amy's latest trick, who turns up on her doorstep in need of a place to stay. Sam has been on the road most of his life, and he aches for stability. He wants to have a family, and Amy wants to escape one.

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It is in Sam's arms and at the helm of this oddly shaped family that Amy grows up and discovers an essential and brutal truth: Real life is often desperately lonely; solace must be gleaned from such ordinary moments as cooking eggs and eating breakfast.

The obviousness of Amy's epiphany might be a wee bit annoying were it not for the strong performances coming from all four corners of the stage. Sturdivant's Nat is a funny and poignant tangle of neuroses. Kilgore's unpredictable Sam is especially strong; this beautiful drifter, who seems as though he'd just as soon stab you as love you, is a dangerous wild card who somehow soothes Amy's fears. Calene-Black makes all Amy's desires for freedom and all her terror of being abandoned rich, palatable and heartbreaking. And Ramsey's Becca lights up the stage every time she sashays across it.

Anyone who has watched television in the last week has in a sense seen an antiseptic version of Refuge: Disappointed twentysomethings are everywhere these days. But Goldberg gets to the dirty heart of what most middle-class Americans eventually discover on the road to maturity: Lots of dreams don't come true, and there's no escaping that brutal fact.

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