Power Struggle: Brutal, Bare Republic Day at Obsidian Art Space

The setup: Playwright Tom Stell directs the world premiere of his own play about just how savage class warfare can really be, using cinematic techniques and a largely talented young cast to create vivid snapshots of unrestrained brutality.

The execution: A bare stage is populated with simple props as needed, which disappear as quickly as they arrive, while projected images suggest a location or a violent action. The starkness suits well the theme of man's inhumanity to man -- especially in times of violent revolution. Here the aristocratic "Browns" control the wealth while the plebian "Grays" struggle for survival. Playwright and director Tom Stell plays the patriarch of the Rivers Family, an imprisoned revolutionary leader. He enters late in the drama but is convincing as a conflicted leader with few illusions. Leighza Walker plays the wife he abandoned for the cause, and she is warm and wise as intended.

The lead role is that of son John Rivers (Kurtis von Krueger), who aspires to escape poverty and does so by hook or by crook, mostly the latter. Von Krueger captures moments of drama, and some humor, but John's moral compass is so changeable that a convincing characterization may not be possible. The opposite is true of his brother Simon, a hot-headed, single-minded revolutionary acted with fire and enthusiasm by James Monaghan, who puts his brand on the role. Lindsy Greig is tall, blond, beautiful and in admirable physical shape - she is interestingly persuasive as a "Brown" slumming with John Rivers. The Rivers family is rounded out by daughter Beth (Liz King) who is quietly effective in the first act and noisily so in the second. I liked less well her paramour and father of the child she is carrying, Trevor Winchester. Tucker Rhodes plays him and looks like a very young Beatle, but speaks rapidly with little variation and even less diction. Rod Todd and Sandi Morgan play the parents of Trevor and other roles and are quite good in them all. Shawn Everiss and Norm Dillon play brutal soldiers -- Everiss etches a vivid portrait.

Playwright Stell leaves some of the brutality offstage with sound effects only, but there is enough onstage, effectively presented, to service several plays. This is Stell's first full-length play and shows talent worth cultivating, but some of the many scenes go on too long, and their points might be telegraphed instead of spelled out -- irony needs to be brief. And the pantomime ending is much too subtle for a play with such bravura power.

The verdict: Judicious trimming would heighten impact, but playwright Stell has fashioned an ambitiously epic drama and found a young and capable cast to flesh out his parable.

Through October 1, Big Head Productions at Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 832-889-7837.

5:48 p.m. Friday, September 16, Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misspelled Lindsy Greig's name.

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