by Mary Notari · November 22, 2014
Billy Eugene Jones, Maurice Williams, Yvette Ganier | Monica Simoes
Pitbulls, a new play by Keith Josef Adkins, is receiving its world premiere at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Adkins, also Artistic Director of The New Black Fest, has added another wonderful contribution to the Black theater community with this new work. Pitbulls is not a play about an obscure slice of America, but an obscured slice of America. It feels urgent; answering many of the mysteries it introduces while leaving seemingly far more important and unanswerable questions open.
Director Leah C. Gardiner has led an award-winning cast through a thicket of accents and hard truths. Mary, played electrically by Yvette Ganier, and her son Dipper (Maurice Williams) live in a trailer outside a small town in the mountains where the main source of income is its pitbull fighting. They make wine and cure-alls to sell by the off-ramp of the highway in order to survive. Her contempt of the Wal-Mart sign that looms high over the hills makes it clear that Mary has chosen this life on the fringes. And perhaps we'd choose the same if we were her, especially after hearing the story of her harassment at the hands of the locals, led by the sadistic and manipulative returned-marine-turned-sheriff, Virgil (Billy Eugene Jones).
The cast is without a doubt superb. Jones is consistently and delightfully unsettling as Virgil, providing the main insights of the show as well as its ultimate mystery. On the eve of a banner dogfight on the Fourth of July, a prize-winning dog is killed horrifically. All the rage and impotence of the town is directed at Mary and Dipper, disrupting their already precarious peace. But who killed the dog? Why is Virgil so ready to condemn Mary and Dipper?
Andrew Boyce and Bart Fasbender provide a lush visual and sonic landscape, respectively. Rattlestick's relatively small stage somehow conveys the expanse of Appalachia as well as the claustrophobia of small town life. The centerpiece of the stage, Mary's trailer, ingeniously turns into both a Church undercroft and the sheriff's office. At the top and between scenes, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are used ingeniously as a musical thread. And the convincing dogfights were mercifully distant and brief.
This is a play for anyone and everyone. Thick accents abound and the West Village is about as far removed as can be from this town near the Ohio River. But the play as a whole is instantly accessible. Pitbulls, in the end, not only makes the invisible visible, but holds up a mirror as well.