Playwright: Jennifer Rumberger. At: WildClaw Theatre Company at The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: $30. Runs through: Oct. 7
All fiction begins with the question "What if," but what separates the basement/dorm-room scribblers from the inspired storytellers is that the former abandon their inquiry as the initial excitement wanes, while the latter forge ahead until all possibilities have been addressed.
Not only does playwright Jennifer Rumberger trust her audience to stay the course all the way to a satisfactory conclusion, however, but to apprehend every step in a narrative operating on several different levels.
Our story opens with slatternly Crystal emerging from the yard behind her trailer-home in the forested everglades of Florida on a dark night, carrying a shovel. She then commences to recite an incantation for the protection of some unseen agent. Daylight reveals our necromantic sorceress bullying her teenage daughter, Lily, who suffers from nightmares and seizures of paralyzing terror. Later, we meet Lily's estranged sister Violet, who vows to remove her sibling from this unhealthy family environment, despite herself being vulnerable to disquieting memories.
The apparition Crystal seeks to summon from the deada predatory phantom called a "lemure" in regional folklorewas a predator in life, too. Lily, we discover, is not Violet's sister, but her child, conceived by her father, Crystal's late husband, to whom his bereaved spouse intends to offer her granddaughter's virgin body as a vessel for his reanimated spirit. The revelation by a neighbor of how the rapacious sire met his untimely end does nothing to sway the obsessed widow's resolve.
Whether or not we believe in occult powers, heroes finding themselves at the mercy of somebody who does is enough to secure our sympathies. Having acquainted us with both a mythic and a sociological analysis of our dramatic universe, Rumberger is now free to proceed to the visceral action-based rescue of the innocent from the forces of evil.
This is accomplished by means of familiar devices such as unexpected appearances of adversaries and allies, false refuges, panic-stricken chases and the inevitable blood and shrieksall rendered especially effective by WildClaw Theatre Company's deft utilization of shadow, silhouette and the densely vegetated setting's natural gloom to create a twilight chiaroscuro facilitating the threatening images conjured by our imaginations. Amid a seasonal glut of cheap slasher-camp parodies, the results make this a smart shivery evening for likewise savvy audiences.