We all love tales of forgiveness and redemption, whether they involve Jesus turning
the other cheek or Britney finally releasing another decent single. A less cuddly truth, though, is
that certain actions — the harming of a child, say — feel expressly unforgivable and irredeemable.
That’s the predicament facing two of the three characters in Strange Country, Anne Adams’s tough but tender ninety-minute drama. By the time they meet, alcoholics Jamie and Darryl have both lost custody of a child through abuse or neglect. Darryl (a benumbed Sidney Williams) now spends his days in a self-medicated stupor while
wallowing in his squalid apartment in middle-of-nowhere, Texas. Jamie (Bethany Geraghty), meanwhile, has joined AA and put herself in the hands of her scrappy girlfriend, Tiffany (Vanessa Vaché), who happens to be Darryl’s sister.
Initially it seems the play will explore Tiffany’s need to fix the wounded souls she collects, but then in an aching late-night scene between Darryl and Jamie, Adams pivots her attention to the no-win situation that is craving human kindness while believing you don’t deserve it. Both think they’re past saving — Jamie describes herself as a “failed attempt at the better version,” while nihilistic Darryl seems midway through a slo-mo suicide. But each finds in the other something they’ve been missing elsewhere: a little understanding. When they decide to sleep together, it seems like another mistake in the making, sure, but also a poignant effort at consolation.
Adams, a first-time playwright, has a tendency to lapse into therapeutic cliché (“I see you,” Darryl says at one point while gazing into Jamie’s eyes) and implausible avowals: Discovered by Tiffany the next morning, the
couple launch into heartfelt declarations that feel far-fetched coming from such fatalistic fuck-ups. (Meanwhile, Tiffany unfairly gets cast as a scold when, after all, she’s just discovered her brother in bed with her girlfriend.)
Those late missteps detract from the otherwise sensitive treatment of the trio by both Adams and the cast of Jay Stull’s slow-burn staging for the New Light Theater Project. Geraghty’s Jamie in particular conveys a quietly shattering sense of being shell-shocked by her self-inflicted pain. The play never absolves the characters
of their sins, but it does give them the most they can probably hope for: a kind of bruised compassion.
By Anne Adams
Through August 13