HMT’s ‘Brewed’ Stirs a Dysfunctional Family Stew (Three Stars)
“Brewed” Written by Scott T. Barsotti; Directed by Mikey DiLoreto; Starring Kendall Aiguier, Elizabeth Battey, Lindsay Eagle, Lauren Foster, Kiki Samko, Kaitee Tredway and Audrey Lynn Sylvia; At The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, Boston, through November 2nd.
And you thought your family was screwed up. After spending some time with the sisters in “Brewed”, you’ll be grateful to spend Thanksgiving with your own kinfolk – no matter how dysfunctional the family dynamic may be. The Happy Medium Theatre serves up its second consecutive Halloween season piece by Scott T. Barsotti following last year’s “The Revenants”, and the results in this offering are intense and disturbing. Watching the shows a year apart makes me wonder if Barsotti was raised by wolves or just spent his formative years in some really terrible foster homes, as the people in both plays treat each other awfully from start to finish.
Six sisters – all with their own peculiar pathology – take turns stirring a pot (how’s that for a metaphor?) all day, every day in their shared household. To stop the ritual would mean something terrible will surely happen to wheelchair-bound Babette – or would it? We get to see what happens to Babbette (a convincing Lauren Foster) when someone stops stirring, and it’s pretty horrifying – a combination of writhing and babbling that makes you both pity her and pray for her to stop. Only the calming efforts by the saintly Juliette (a near angelic Kiki Samko) restore her to normal, which is to say, childish and manipulative in an almost evil sort of way. The rest of the sisters have their own problems: Paulette is the family rage-aholic who is willing to fight (quite literally) at the slightest provocation (real or imagined); Nanette is the sister who left the madhouse to become a NASCAR driver; Collette is the dim-witted and impressionable younger sister; and Roxette is the girl who can fix anything (as we see in a frightening twist) except her own family.
Roxette decides to bring the girl she loves to meet her remaining clan (the parents and one sister have apparently passed on), which brings them all together for one big unhappy family re-union, with lots and lots of unbridled angry exchanges between all of them. Why Roxette would ever think this is a good idea escapes me, but her girlfriend Lee’s presence does introduce at least one mildly sane and non-violent character into the mix. There is an unrelenting tension that spills into full blown violence with regularity in this household, and it can be tough to watch at times. The sisters fight each other, quite literally, beginning with a sumo style ritual that turns into WWF-style matches – without the laughs – and the bouts leave the entire family with black eyes and bloody lips, including Babette.
Despite the anger and mayhem, there is a lot of dark humor in the script. Elizabeth Battey (who was very funny in last summer’s “Psycho Beach Party”) is Roxette’s hapless love interest who is sucked into this den of jackals, but manages to put an upbeat and cheerful spin to an awful situation (for a while anyway); and Collette’s idiotic take on life is amusingly played by Kendall Aiguier. Lindsay Eagle is a standout as Nannette, as the only one trying to break free of the web of family insanity; and Audrey Lynn Sylvia must be mainlining a combination of testosterone and Red Bull to maintain the level of anger she brings to her role. As a matter of fact, the whole cast does a good job of maintaining that seething rage throughout the show, which is something of a problem – not in the performances, which are uniformly good, but for the audience members.
The first half of the show is essentially a series of angry and violent exchanges between the sisters and it gets a little repetitive, although there is an eye-popping event that takes place at the end of the first act that sets up the second half. The second act explains a lot more of the family dynamic, and the story is really just an exaggerated version of the problems that a lot of families that are held hostage by one member with a big problem deal with. People with family members with drug, alcohol and mental health issues of the acting out variety might especially identify with the way the family interacts with each other. But it is Halloween, and this show does have a lot of creepy supernatural weirdness to it, so it may be worth a look for those who don’t mind large doses of anger and violence with their theater experience. For more info on this show and also the staged reading of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ on October 29th and 30th, visit http://www.happymediumtheatre.com/.