Playwright: Samantha Beach. At: Jackalope Theatre at Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway. Tickets: JackalopeTheatre.org; $15-$25. Runs through: April 1
How is a loving modern Christian family supposed to react when a young teenage member casually mentions that she believes that the devil spoke to her? That's what sets off the drama of The Snare, Samantha Beach's world-premiere play for Jackalope Theatre.
Now Beach is not aping the horror excesses of the 1976 flick The Omen where a malevolent child is suspected to be the antichrist. Instead, Beach sets up The Snare to be an often comical domestic situation that also dramatically plumbs personal faith crises and fraying trust between parents and teenage children.
The basketball-obsessed eighth-grader Ruth ( Caroline Heffernan ) starts behaving erratically after her devil-related admission. Initially Ruth childishly builds a protective living room fort to sleep in and acts more aggressively on the basketball court. But later Ruth's actions become more dangerous, especially when she pressures her insecure older brother, Caleb ( Sam Blin ), to risk breaking laws.
Ruth's parents are understandably perplexed. Chemistry teacher father David ( Joel Ewing ) parentally defers more to mother Abigail ( Cyd Blakewell ) since she is a newly promoted pastor to the Christian megachurch the family attends. But rather than taking forceful control, Abigail tries not to be too confrontational with her newly bewildering daughter.
With The Snare, Beach is to be commended for her arresting dialogue and respectfully making her Christian characters very relatable instead of Bible-thumping stereotypes. And there is great potential in The Snare to allegorically explore the family dynamics of parents dealing with formerly angelic children who transform into reckless boundary-pushing teenagers.
Yet The Snare suffers from too diffuse a focus. Is this narrative supposed to be more about the troubled journey of Ruth or Abigail?
Also problematic is Beach's confusing symbolic use of a wild animal's growls throughout the play to unnerve the family. There's also an underdeveloped characterization with the close podcast-producing friend, Sloane ( Paloma Nozicka ), whose beliefs ( and ultimate actions ) run counter to those of the family.
Despite these script deficiencies, there's no denying that Jackalope has handsomely produced The Snare. Designer Ashley Ann Woods' cozy living room/kitchen set truly transforms the company's hideaway space in the Broadway Armory.
But The Snare really commands attention thanks to all the strong ensemble performances under Elana Boulos' astute direction. Blakewell particularly gets across the conflict of a mother facing a child who starts severely testing her.
Beach's script for The Snare may be too structurally scattered to fully satisfy. But there are so many other idea-filled aspects and enjoyable performances in Jackalope's The Snare to make it worth your while.