Solitude, especially in isolation, can engender eccentric and dangerous behaviors. At one extreme, simple daily activities can become elaborate and self-indulgent rituals that consume time. At the other, they can be perfunctory exercises that satisfy function rather than aesthetics. The Biblically- inspired adage suggests that “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and the same could be said of idle minds. With time to spare, mischief finds Miranda Rose Hall’s central character in this compact, 70 minute, two-hander.
Nellie is a 60ish widow in rural Montana who operates a small pig farm, and who slaughters her stock whenever she receives an order from her marketplace. She came to this work late in life, as she was sidetracked by the unfortunate circumstance of murdering her abusive husband and serving 20 years in prison for it. Having been a seemingly middle-class woman of reasonable intelligence and social stature, incarceration has left its imprint.
The formidable Anne Darragh embraces the role of Nellie with total authority, understanding her contradictions. In many ways, her role is a stereotypical male character, the courageous, self-sufficient hermit. Physically, she slumps, disheveled, with sloppy clothes and unkempt hair that she often runs her hand over. Her recurring repast is canned peaches, mushed banana, and Saltine crackers. Yet her kitchen is as neat as a pin, with peach cans neatly stacked on the counter and dishes organized on the open shelves. And perhaps in a nod to her pre-prison memories, she uses a rotary telephone!
An unexpected knock on the door reveals Fitz, the young adult child of Nellie’s lawyer, Frank, who had moved to Washington state after defending her. Fitz has responded to a flyer that Nellie had sent Frank to show that she was in business, but apparently, in combination with vague conversations that she’d had with Frank, Nellie ends up in a bind and accepts engaging in illicit activity with Fitz.
As an aside, note that Fitz is written as a transmasculine man and is portrayed effectively by Kian Johnson, a transmasculine man. Although the character’s transgenderism is revealed in the script, the role has no inherently gender-specific qualities. Perhaps the playwright admirably chose this characterization in recognition of the abuse (like Nellie) that transgenders suffer and/or to promote opportunity for the marginalized. And if transgenders represent a small, yet underrepresented, population, transmasculines are a small percentage of that small percentage.
Fitz offers a huge contrast in style with Nellie. Trim and spiffy, he is a barista with a college education, if majoring in digital poetry qualifies. But in pursuing an uneasy partnership, trust between the two grows until the moral underpinnings of the narrative emerge. The dramatic tension rises when the two diverge on what is good and what is evil. Are evil actions redeemable if they produce good outcomes? Further, when can we rely on the word of others to guide our own actions? Are we accountable if we don’t help others when given the chance?
The play is well done and the story has merit, though I appreciated it more on reflection than at the time. It may not be to the liking of those who object to some of the coarseness or the morality of the characters, but that is a diminishing segment of the population. Staging is effective. Tanya Orellana’s single set conveys the kitchen and eating areas nicely, though the outdoor scenes, including slaughtering are left to the imagination. Christopher Michael Sauceda’s sound design conveys everything from rich Americana music to the final mournful protests of pigs. Lisa Peterson’s direction is resourceful and hits all the right notes.
“The Kind Ones” is a world premiere written by Miranda Rose Hall, produced by Magic Theatre, and plays on their stage at Fort Mason; Building D; 2 Marina Blvd.; San Francisco, CA through February 20, 2022.