A sideways glance at marriage

  • Updated: November 5, 2012 - 4:12 PM

Trista Baldwin's play adds a dash of absurdity to the familiar theme of long-term relationships gone bad, but the work pulls its punch.

Neal Skoy, Patrick Bailey, Cheryl Willis, Sara Richardson: The Workhaus Collective

Photo: Rich Fleischman, Star Tribune

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In "Kill Me Don't Go," playwright Trista Baldwin uses a new plow to dig familiar ground. Baldwin, a member of the Workhaus Collective, taps into the fertile land of long-term relationships -- in this case a marriage worn down by the drumbeat of time.

In Leah Cooper's production, which opened Saturday at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, Richard (Patrick Bailey) and Marcella (Cheryl Willis) come to us in perfect bliss. A baby later, things have soured, and resentment grows when each spouse hires help. Ethan (Neal Skoy) helps Richard write a scholarly book and Joy (Sara Richardson) minds the baby.

Baldwin's play, and Cooper's direction, twists the story with an off-kilter impressionism. The signals are fairly clear when we are not in real time, and the convention is mild. One needn't squint too hard to see the trappings of Edward Albee -- an older couple, young naifs, a baby that may or may not be real and a resistance to realism.

Baldwin writes sharp dialogue and there are great, funny moments splashed with absurdism. Cooper's dynamic direction turns the heat up at key moments, and her actors respond to the freedom -- Bailey and Willis most vividly in a simulated sex scene. Frequently, though, we are left with the nagging question: Where is this play going?

Willis always has had a fearless soul onstage. Here, she commits to Marcella's frustration and weariness and snaps with a rage that comes from her belly. Richardson stacks up more evidence as to why she is a young actor we should notice. It's all discovery with her -- fresh immediacy that responds to the moment. Her innocence has a subtext of wariness that makes her interesting to watch. Skoy has that same youthful eagerness in a less-developed role; Bailey relies on wisdom and finely realized choices.

The internal logic of Baldwin's play becomes confused near the end. Structurally, we are pointed toward a big, crashing climax between Marcella and Richard. Willis and Bailey each have valedictory moments with a somewhat obvious denouement. Baldwin, though, confounds that poignant and tragic conclusion with not one but two more short scenes. That these vignettes leave us puzzled is no crime. However, leaching the impact of your most powerful image is counterproductive. Can we assume nothing is real? If so, we've been amused, but not moved.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299

  • KILL ME DON'T GO

    What: By Trista Baldwin. Directed by Leah Cooper for Workhaus Collective.

    When: 8 p.m. Thu.-Mon. Ends Nov. 17.

    Where: Playwrights' Center, 2301 E. Franklin Av., Mpls.

    Tickets: Pay what you can. Suggested donation, $18. 1-800-838-3006 or www.workhauscollective.org

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