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25 Saints
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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Playwright: Joshua Rollins. At: Pine Box Theater Company at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336;; $25. Runs through: March 31

Three handguns, a claw hammer, an industrial-strength necktie and a box of kitchen matches are needed to murder all seven of the low-life desperados in Joshua Rollins' follow-up to his 2011 hard-boiled thriller, A Girl with Sun in Her Eyes. This doesn't mean that audiences are expected to keep count of the homicides during the course of the show, but it does raise suspicions that the author may have inventoried his arsenal before starting his script.

Our setting is a woodland cabin in the Appalachian mountains, whose cozy decor is immediately interrupted by violence bursting through the door as clean-cut Charlie, disabled-vet Tuck and sexy-babe Sammy proceed to brutally beat an already-wounded police officer unconscious, later hiding the presumed-dead body in an heirloom chest. Unsurprisingly, drugs are involved in the altercation—Charlie and Tuck's brother has abandoned his methamphetamine business, leaving girl friend Sammy indebted to his buyer—who happens to be the county sheriff. Ah, but if her rescuers can deliver one more shipment of the illegal substance, the crooked arm of the law will free them to live the idyllic seaside life in Virginia Beach. Uh-huh.

Tracy Letts didn't invent rural-noir, but his seminal country-pulp Killer Joe certainly shares responsibility for the abundance of white-trash-capitalist dramas proliferating since its premiere in 1990. Rollins takes the literary form to new levels of efficiency, however, packing the requisite intricate plot reversals, grand-guignol spectacle and minimal character backstory into a bare 70 minutes. Helping to camouflage the seams in this well-stitched yarn is a cast well-trained in microcosmic acting, performing under the direction of Susan E. Bowen, that includes Caroline Neff as the self-styled damsel-in-distress, Molly Reynolds as the criminal operation's flinty matriarch, and the formidable Danny Goldring as the lawman on a mission to improve the lives of the people in his economically depressed region through pharmaceutical intervention (whoever said that lurid sensationalism didn't have its sociologically-significant elements?).

The all-star technical team likewise strives for, and mostly achieves, the heightened realism of comic-book melodrama, its tone set by Ryan Bourque's imaginative fight design within the production's intimate space. Contemplative playgoers may lament the preponderance of machinations over motives, but fans of the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez school of frontier justice will find their morality vividly demonstrated in this over-the-top parable.

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