In Sheila Callaghan’s universe, Mom offers the ultimate high. Kate Crackernuts imagines the mother-infant bond as narcotic bliss, one that can mutate into addiction if the child refuses to grow up and away. In this feminist retelling of an English folktale, it’s a princess who weans a royal son from his chemical dependency on the maternal crack pipe.
So far, so promising. But director Hayley Finn and her design team present Callaghan’s world as something alarmingly akin to a Sid and Marty Krofft ’70s kiddie television fantasy. Hooked on a retro-trip of tube socks and winged nymphets, Finn violates a basic rule of fairytelling: An audience must be able to follow the action—no matter how fantastical—to absorb the tale’s meaning.
Admittedly, Crackernuts is tough to stage. The play overdoses on metaphors, perhaps because Callaghan is more interested in states of desire than the mechanisms of their transformation. Still, there’s a wild terrain of words in this playwright’s head that deserves to be explored. The cast is up for the trip, but can’t find the forest for the groovy trees. Neither can the audience, who, far from being enveloped in a primal psychological crucible, is merely subjected to a never ending story.