by Ed Malin · February 23, 2016
Frigid festival stalwart Rising Sun Performance Company presents a slice of life from Maine: Sprucehaven B. In one hour, we see a deft combination of two disturbing stories about the already disturbed Isabel. The 1995 main course is a psychological thriller, while the 1978 prequel boldly hacks below the surface. The show is written by Mark Cornell and directed by Akia, and was developed by the company over the course of the last few years.
At the Sprucehaven Lodge on Bailey Island, it’s cold and about to snow. Isabel (Elizabeth Burke), recently discharged from a mental institution, chanced to run into Tommy (Tucker Bryan) and to invite him back to their old romantic haunt. (Note: Isabel is 30 at this point, and she and Tommy go back to their high school days.) Tommy can’t resist Isabel, someone he once dated and then married. However, Tommy has clearly moved on to a new relationship during Isabel’s time away from society, and wants to use this meeting to employ reason in the hope that Isabel will finally sign the divorce papers. Instead, Isabel gets kinky and Tommy finds this arousing. (“This” means allowing himself to be handcuffed by a psychopath who has lured him to a deserted place to do him harm.) I urge you to go witness the clever ways in which she does him harm. There is a lot to chew on here: why it’s a good idea to let go of past attachments but how Tommy can’t do this to save his life. Advocates of monogamy and the happiness it allegedly brings may be smiling at this odd tale…but then comes round two.
In 1978, teenage Isabel (Samantha Turret) and her father, John, the football coach (Richie Abanes) are at Sprucehaven, forcibly isolating themselves from their normal living situation. They are guarded by Officer Snodgrass (Ari Veach), who manifests as an eerie mixture of a Southern Maine local and a pornstar. The reasons for Isabel and John to hide themselves away at Sprucehaven are complicated, but pale in comparison to Isabel’s behavior. Although her emotionally-distant father wants to connect with her and regrets their tough home life, she runs circles around him and prefers the string of abusive men she has already bagged. She has learned to express her destructive needs, using a playbook with which her father is not familiar. To her dismay, none of this has brought stability. Her father has not noticed that Isabel is in league with Officer Snodgrass, who has not noticed that she has her eyes on Tommy.
Wow. Parents beware: you’re doing it wrong. This is my attempt to understand the thoughts of a complex character, one it is hard to like per se but very difficult to forget. The play’s two-part structure engages in some interesting deceptions; this town has changed, those people have moved, she’s really grown up. The scary truth—which this play really nails—is that people don’t change. So be careful out there.