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Local playwright Patricia Milton draws from an array of sources — neurological, environmental, literary, pharmaceutical, philosophical — in “Believers,” her new post-apocalyptic comedy.
It’s an ambitious choice for Wily West, given that four actors (plus a guitarist on an overhead platform) must squeeze onto a tiny set that encompasses a science lab and a receptionist’s office (Quinn J. Whitaker, lead designer).
But director Sara Staley manages the physical logistics well enough.
Brainy scientist Grace, with a reputation as an unethical experimenter, has just been hired by Tower Labs director Sam. She’s to lead a team of one, single-minded Rocky, in developing a new drug at this outpost in the desolate wilds of Kentucky.
Rocky tells Grace that the drug under development is an anti-love vaccine, designed to protect vulnerable humans from heartbreak. Rocky, you see, has been hurt by love — we find out pretty quickly it’s Grace who hurt him, years ago — so his motivation is very personal. But he’s not telling Grace the truth about their assignment.
Grace, for her part, is turning over a new leaf after her tainted past, and wants to create just the opposite — a love serum.
It’s more complicated than that, though, and it’s fun to see how the intricate plot unfurls.
What is Sam’s true mission? Who is the client for this new drug, whatever it is? Just how morally bankrupt is Tower Labs? How will the intellectual arguments between Grace and Rocky, about the true nature and biological basis of love, resolve? How does the wacky, born-again receptionist, April May, figure into the plot, with her crazed infatuation with Sam?
Milton weaves in fairy tales (specifically “The Frog Prince”) and lots of quotes from literature, all spouted by Grace to bolster her pro-amour case. Guitarist Rick Homan’s musical accompaniment of familiar, love-themed tunes is a nice touch.
But, and it’s a huge but, the actors, for the most part, are so broadly caricaturish, and so deafeningly loud — straining to be funny by way of shouting, mannered gesturing and constant, fussy busyness — that the acting actually distracts not only from Milton’s dialogue and story but from the humor itself.
Luckily, Casey Fern as Rocky and Maria Giere Marquis as Grace do have a few low-key scenes together that come as blessed relief amid the din.
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