A bracing winter ghost story set amid prairie snowdrifts, and performed by flashlight is even more appealing when you’ve braved a polar vortex to reach the theater. And, at first, this is what Brian Watkins’s new play, My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer, promises to be. Directed by Danya Taymor and now running at the Flea, the piece follows two hard-luck sisters, struggling to make ends meet in small-town northern Colorado. Shadows flicker across a tattered theater curtain as Sarah (Katherine Folk-Sullivan) and Hannah (Layla Khoshnoudi) regale us with stories of relatives lost in the wilderness and bleak sunrises over the plains.
Soon, though, things start to get weird. You see, Sarah and Hannah care for their ailing mother and her pet sheep, Vicky, and, inexplicably, the sisters despise the sheep. So when poor Vicky wanders into the kitchen while they’re cooking chicken parmesan, events go downhill quickly. I’ll spare you the gory details, but there’s a meat tenderizer involved.
It’s a little unclear what Watkins was aiming for, but the effect is baffling, sort of Curse of the Starving Class without Sam Shepard’s poetic allure. I love a tall tale on a winter night, but I wish they’d spared the sheep.