By Michael Buzzelli
Mae (Anita Parrott) is trapped in poverty, endlessly ironing shirts in a house where no one changes their clothes in “Mud” by María Irene Fornés.
Her former lover and, apparently, stepbrother Lloyd (Matt Dudley) has some unexplained malady (one of the symptoms is impotence). Mae turns to Henry (Kyle Stiver) for help.
The situation gets complicated when Mae kicks Lloyd out of her bed and lets Henry into it. Yet, the three continue to cohabitate, even though the two men fight over Mae.
Things can only get worse. Boy, do they get worse!
Like “Medea” or “The Trojan Women,” the most dramatic moments of the play happen off-stage. Fornés is an amazing playwright, but she’s not Euripides. In modern theater, “show not tell” is the rule.
The play is a vast cavern of despair, the themes of loneliness, isolation and poverty are thoroughly explored. However some of the most interesting information about the play is in the dramaturg’s notes and not on the stage. In the notes, the readers learn that Mae and Lloyd are foster siblings – and former lovers.
Deep dive side note: X-Files aficionados may recall the season four episode of “Home.” “Mud” reads like origin story of the Peacock family, the deranged family of hillbilly sociopaths at the center of that plot.
There are a lot of quick scenes that keeps the show moving.
The best reason to see this show would be for the actors. They are outstanding, particularly Dudley.
Parrott is talented, but she seems to be out of place here. She is too sophisticated to be Mae. She should be playing lawyers, judges, professors, not a backwoodswoman. While she turns in a fine performance, the character never seems to suit her. Though, some of the fault lies with Fornés. There is an inconsistency in the work. Mae is struggling to read, but, on occasion, she will spout out a word that seems beyond her comprehension level.
Dudley shines as Lloyd. The character is creepy, deranged, psychotic. Chillingly disturbed. The kind of person you don’t want staring at you in a rural gas station in central West Virginia.
When Henry has an accident, Stiver’s kicks into overdrive. His portrayal of the character is at top form, especially when he turns mean and manipulative.
Julian Cerminara’s set is exceptional. It has a timeless beauty while still evoking the poverty. There is one small misstep with the props; the Sunbeam Steammaster iron on top of the rickety, old ironing board looked far too modern for the surroundings.
There’s a strangely human reaction to watching a play or movie about poverty and pain. At some point, the trials and tribulations become too much to bear and several audience members (this reviewer included) start to titter with a bemused fecklessness. It’s not that we are unsympathetic to the pain, but want to shout out, “What next calamity will befall these poor souls?” and calamity strikes all over again.
Think Marty Feldman in “Young Frankenstein” saying, “Could be worse. Could be raining,” and, suddenly, there’s a massive downpour.
“Mud,” however, will make you forget your troubles, and you can commiserate with the cast at the Talk Back after the show.
“Mud” runs from January 25 to 29 at the Genesius Theater at Duquesne University. For more information, click here.