Clash of Symbols


Lottie, an upright Minnesota housewife, is suspicious of the Southerners, Dinah and Dan, boarding in her home. “Where do they come from?” she asks her husband, Cyrus. “When will they be here? Can she cook? Can she sew?” Finally, Lottie looks Dan up and down and demands, “Is he mysterious?” Dan (Tug Coker) is indeed mysterious, a quality Lisa D’Amour’s The Cataract strives for. Set in 1880s Minneapolis, it concerns the upheaval wreaked on Cyrus and Lottie’s house when Dinah and Dan contract to stay for three months. They upset the Northerners’ daily routines—Dinah longs for grits at breakfast and refuses to wash the floor—and disturb the nightly ones as well, inducing erotic dreams.

In performance pieces such as Nita and Zita and Anna Bella Eema, playwright D’Amour and director Katie Pearl have displayed a talent for blending the prosaic with the supernatural, blurring the boundaries of the actual and the figurative. But while The Cataract affirms their theatrical gifts, the tonal eccentricities feel somewhat forced, as if the script is freighted with more symbolic weight than it can comfortably bear. Flowers, water, wood, even walnuts all must shoulder emblematic content. Happily, the actors seem unaware of any ungainliness and relish their elliptical, clipped lines. Barnaby Carpenter is particularly good as straightforward Cyrus, and if Vanessa Aspillaga, as Dinah, seems to hail from another play, it’s not an unpleasant one. Indeed, even if the piece is somewhat overwrought, it’s still seductive. When, in the midst of the play, Cyrus declares, “I am dancing around the edges of a fascinating life,” we too are caught up in his whirl.

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