How Cissy Grew

Susan Johnston’s powerful new play is structured as a pastiche of three family members’ memories, slowly filling in the puzzle of their traumatic lives. In West Virginia, an unmarried couple, Butch and Darla (James Denton and Erin J. O’Brien), are stuck in financial and moral poverty. This is all manifested in legal and illegal addictions, as the pair try to turn their lives around with the help of their daughter, Cissy (Liz Vital). A moment of inattention inflicts a wound that will haunt the three throughout their lives. Susan Johnston’s stark text, rarely punctuated with humor, is piercingly painful and beautifully wrought. The actors, including Stewart W. Calhoun as the various boys in Cissy’s damaged life, play each dramatic moment with conviction. Even their southern accents, which can so easily become generic and insulting, are rendered tenderly. Director Casey Stangl honors the desolate geography of the characters’ lives by stirring life from their bleakness. She keeps the production terse, but extremely well paced. The set pieces are deftly designed by Laura Fine Hawkes for multiple uses. Lighting by Trevor Stirlin Burk, paired with C. Andrew Mayer’s tense sound design, adds to the success of this elegant production.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Oct. 18. Continues through Nov. 23, 2008