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Some small towns are famous for their scenery, others for rare handicrafts. But in the Appalachian hamlet of Keith Josef Adkins’s new play, Pitbulls, the local attraction is pit bull fighting — and things don’t go well for anyone who messes with this celebrated homegrown sport.
Crisply directed by Leah C. Gardiner, Pitbulls explores a remote corner of Appalachia, where Walmart represents civilization and Cincinnati feels like it’s a million miles away. Mary (Yvette Ganier) and her son Dipper (Maurice Williams) eke out a living selling homemade wine. Meanwhile she negotiates two love interests: Wayne (Nathan Hinton), a preacher with a persnickety wife; and Virgil (Billy Eugene Jones), an old boyfriend hardened beyond recognition by his stint in the Marines. The tense local scene threatens to combust when a star pit bull meets a gory end just before a major Fourth of July fight.
Adkins treats his themes — isolation and coming of age — with curiosity and compassion, and the actors resist condescending to their down-and-out characters. Andrew Boyce’s set is a beautifully detailed diorama of weather-beaten backwoods life, set against lush forest green.
By the end, though, the play itself begins to feel like a dogfight. Many scenes descend into repetitive screaming; characters tear at each other till they cry. It’s too exhaustingly combative for its own good.