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Scott's Theatre Beat: Blood Potato


Blood potato



"everybody bleeds” is the subhead for this Apothecary Theatre Company production.  It is an accurate description of sitting through this play. It’s about family dysfunction in the midst of a "crank” epidemic in the broken-down steel town Donora, PA.  "Crank” is a slang name for methamphetamine and "teeners” are a name given to some users, in this case, Fly (Zack Griffiths), and Janelle, beautifully played by Beth Wittig.


Fly has two brothers who make-up his remaining family.  His older brother Declan who has just left the Army and is the former boy friend of Janelle, given an excellent portrayal by Dennis Flanagan, and Quinn, the middle brother, a school bus driver (Mike Mihm) the intellectually weakest of the brothers.  Rounding out this cast of characters is Adrienne (Carrie Watt), a 14 year old student who rides on Quinn’s bus.


            The story revolves around the economic circumstances that everyone living in Donora must endure since the steel mills and other businesses shut down a number of years before.  Fly and Janelle have dealt with the despair by doing "crank.”  Declan gets work in a plastics factory because of his veterans status and has tried to help Fly get various jobs that he ultimately fails at because of his addiction.  Ultimately Fly, Declan, and Janelle decide to make crystal meth as a way of getting the money they all want so they can escape Donora.  Declan has access to the chemicals, Janelle knows how to "cook” them to make the "crank,” and Fly knows how to sell the product.


            Janelle and Declan were childhood sweethearts and she wants to re-connect with him.  He won’t have anything to do with her so long as she is addicted to meth.  She had a drug-fueled relationship with Fly that lurks in the background but she still gets herself clean.  Fly is supposed to be doing the same but he is incapable of letting go of the "crank.”  Added to this stew of drugs and romance is Quinn and his relationship with Adrienne, the 14 year old student on his bus. While their story is beautifully handled in the production, it doesn’t really fit well with the intensity of the core drama between Fly, Declan, and Janelle.


            In the end, despite hard work by the cast, the play fails because there is nothing compelling for the audience to care about the struggles of the characters.  The playwright and director employ a curious device with the use of puppets as a method a fleshing out the relationship backstory of the characters.  It is an interesting attempt but ultimately doesn’t add to drawing the audience in on what is happening to the characters in the present.


            The set design by Doug Durlacher is worth mentioning for the ingenious way in which he used the limited stage space of the theatre to move the action from point to point.  A chain-link fence was the only discordant element.  Robin Paterson’s lighting is effective in the service of the story.

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