James Comtois on Rattlers

Thursday, November 20, 2008 Leave a Comment

Playwright, reviewer and Nosediver James Comtois returned to the Trilogy last night to see Rattlers after his lovely review of Angel Eaters two weeks ago. He has good things to say about Rattlers, and returns tonight to see the final installment, 8 Little Antichrists. Shouldn't you join him? As always, highlights and pics to follow!

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Snake's garage, set by Caleb Levengood, lights by Jennifer Rathbone)

By James Comtois

With Rattlers, the second play in the Angel Eaters trilogy, writer Johnna Adams has upped the ante that she placed with the first play, Angel Eaters, by simultaneously expanding the mythology established in the first piece and creating a compelling self-contained play that's part character study, part murder mystery and part supernatural revenge thriller. I'd go so far to say that it's even better than Angel Eaters.

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Jason Paradine, Scott Drummond)

In Rattlers, which takes place in Oklahoma in 1975 (38 years after the events depicted in Angel Eaters), we're essentially watching three separate stories centering around the same dead woman. The first story deals with Snake (Scott Drummond), a very dangerous redneck who keeps crates of rattlesnakes, who has kidnapped Osley Clay (Jason Paradine) at the request of his girlfriend, Ernelle (Amy Lynn Stewart), and Osley's ex. Ernelle's sister has been brutally murdered, and knows that Osley has the ability to resurrect the dead, but unbeknownst to her, at a horrible price. Osley has disavowed his powers and become a man of the cloth, but Ernelle and Snake aren't taking no for an answer.

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Amy Lynn Stewart, Scott Drummond)

I should point out here that I imagine that it's just as fun and fascinating to go into Rattlers unaware of the events that transpired in the first play in the trilogy, Angel Eaters, as it is to go in (as I did) knowing Osley's family tree and dark powers (he's the son of Nola and Fortune and nephew of Joann from the first play).

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Matthew Crobsy, Richard B. Watson)

The second story concerns two men who meet at the dead woman's wake: Ted (a very funny and very creepy Matthew Crosby), the sad and milquetoast undertaker who had been in love with the departed since he was a kid, and Everett (Richard B. Watson), the young woman's drunken chain-smoking husband. As they talk, we slowly and steadily learn their back-stories and relationships to the young woman, which of course isn't quite what we've been expecting.

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: David Jackson, Jane Lincoln Taylor)

The third story centers around the young woman's mother, Mattie (Jane Lincoln Taylor), who's fraught with grief and consumed with a need for revenge on whomever killed her daughter. Ted's brother Shane (David Jackson) is a young man - or, to be more accurate, boy - who is madly in love with her and vows to do anything for Mattie (he mows her lawn). And Mattie figures he may be the perfect person to manipulate into helping her get her revenge.

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Jason Paradine)

Any one of theses stories would make for a taught and compelling self-contained one-act, but Adams the Flux Theatre Ensemble have created something much more ambitious, and the ambition has paid off. Each of these elements to Rattlers complement and build off each other (and Angel Eaters) beautifully to create a portrait of individuals bound by grief, fate and evil forces beyond their control. Again, you don't need to see the first play to enjoy Rattlers, but it does add to the enjoyment if you have.

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Jane Lincoln Taylor, David Jackson)

I loved the sense of suspense that the story slowly and steadily builds and the way information was slowly doled out to the audience. I loved the slight nods to events from the previous play (like the references to birds sounding like angels). I loved the way the elements of the supernatural creeps naturally into the play. I loved how your perceptions of Ted and Everett change as they tell their stories to each other and how their exchanges were simultaneously hilarious and ghastly (Watson's delivery of one line when he's asked how he and Ted knew the deceased is just priceless). And I loved that final image that the play gives us (thanks to not only Adams but director Jerry Ruiz and actress Becky Kelly).

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Becky Kelly, David Jackson)

I guess I'm trying to say that I loved this play.

Rattlers definitely left me wanting more. Fortunately, I do have more: I'll be seeing the third piece, 8 Little Antichrists, tonight. I can't wait.

(Photo: Justin Hoch. Pictured: Amy Lynn Stewart, Scott Drummond)

Rattlers is playing in rep with Angel Eaters and 8 Little Antichrists at the Wings Theatre until November 22. Tickets are $18 per show, or $40 for the three-show combo. For tickets click here.