by Josephine Cashman · August 13, 2014
Coyote Katie’s Return is based on the (fictional) legend of Katie, killed by Coyotes while running away from her abusive parents. Now her spirit haunts the desert near a small town in Oklahoma, stuck in limbo.
Ruby (playwright and actor Alison Crane) is also stuck in a limbo of sorts. She has lost Samantha, the cat who was her constant companion through almost two decades of emotional turbulence. Rather than say goodbye, she brings the body to local taxidermist Roy so she can keep a part of Samantha “alive.” As it turns out, Roy (an appealing Matthew Hammond) can talk to the spirit animals. He is far more comfortable with dead animals than living humans. Samantha’s spirit, however, is uncommonly chatty, and she is also a matchmaker.
Into this burgeoning romance returns Coyote Katie, not so ghostly after all. She literally runs with a pack of coyotes, has lost all human speech, and much of her humanity. Jenny Kirlin’s intensely physical performance as Katie is as feral (sometimes uncomfortably so) as, well, a wild animal. Roy’s bond with Katie ruins his relationship with Ruby. She and her boss Dr. Holbrook believe that Roy’s care of Katie is almost criminally detrimental to Katie’s well-being. William Franke as Dr. Holbrook gives a comic and pitiful performance as a psychiatrist locked in his own head, so OCD that he hand-sanitizes surgical gloves. He is so terrified of physical contact that it actually makes him faint.
It’s nature against science; it’s ambition vs. compassion; madness vs. sanity. Coyote Katie's Returns is, in many respects, a play about second chances. Is the danger of intimacy (both physical and emotional) worth the risk? Is it more important than the safety isolation can provide? And what kind of love are animals (both human and otherwise) capable of?
Bradley Campbell skillfully directs his actors, who are uniformly terrific, and the pace never falters. The set seemed a little overly complicated, but the design team brings the sterility of a hospital into keen comparison with the untamed and often bloody world outside.
Playwright Alison Crane asks a lot of powerful questions, perhaps too many to answer in two hours, but it makes for a compelling, almost other-worldly tale. The work still feels a little rough, but I think further development will turn Coyote Katie’s Return work into crackerjack play. It’s worth your time to check it out.