Playwright: Scott T. Barsotti. At: Ruckus Theatre/Tympanic Theatre Companies at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: 773-975-8150; www.theaterwit.org; $17. Runs through: March 24
A typical Scott Barsotti play poses an unlikely dynamic in a prosaic settingzombies held captive in the garage by their spouses, say, or a woman trying unsuccessfully to diethen skews the premises in unexpected directions, the characters behaving in ways contradicting their genre. Then, just when we despair of comprehending the author's purpose, a chance remark triggers a flash of insight"Oh, that's what it's about!"
Barsotti's framing device this time is drawn from fairy tales, the setting a cottage in the woods, its basement housing both a modern washer-dryer and a medieval cauldron bubbling over a fire, wherein dwell five of seven sistersmotherly Juliette, tomboy Collette, mechanic-adept Roxette, grumpy Paulette and crippled Babette. Absent are Nannette, who left home to pursue a career, and Mariette, who may be deceased. The siblings' waking hours are devoted to stirring the contents of the aforementioned cauldron, in the belief that if this task is neglected for even a moment, fragile Babette will die. Ah, but today Roxette has called the surviving clan together to meet her significant othera cheerfully robust young woman who hints that maybe Babette no longer requires her family's all-too-literal life support.
Life supportget it? Suddenly, the pieces fall into placethe guilt, the resentments, the hidden agendas. Even as we struggle to come up with a solution to alleviating the unhappiness of this household, we recognize the source of the hostile envy directed at Nannette (who ran away from it all), the manipulative stratagems perpetrated by Babette (who must ensure her nurses' undivided attention) and the threat posed by a stranger bearing alternative approaches to invalid care. As one macabre injury after another thwarts every attempt to reduce Babette's parasitic dependency, the question of who will, literally, pull the plug looms ever larger.
This co-production of the Ruckus and Tympanic Theatre companies dresses up its gloomy dilemma in vivid imagesthe sisters settle quarrels by means of hand-to-hand combat, courtesy of Richard Gilbert and Victor Bayona's fight choreography, and Roxette's tinkerly skills introduces some nifty quasi-Steampunk prosthetics created by Ruth McCormack. The cast, recruited from the two producing companies under Anna C. Bahow's direction, likewise generates a sororal dynamic of sufficient intensity to keep our curiosity piqued until the light goes on.