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Torn Space Theater's "Mud"

Patrick Moltane, Willie Judson, and Bonnie Jean Taylor in Mud. (photo by Lukia Costello)

Kristina Siegel’s set design for the Torn Space Theater production of Mud by Maria Irene Fornes is a ghostly house suggested by transparent fabric. Fornes’s characters, who are trapped in a life of poverty, ignorance, and deep emotional need, are similarly entangled in this house. If the concept evokes thoughts of Bertolt Brecht and the Berliner Ensemble, we shouldn’t be surprised: This is the artistic background of the German-born scenographer.

In Fornes’s play, Mae and Lloyd grew up together. Mae’s father adopted Lloyd when he was a boy. The father is now dead, and the two have continued in a kind of marital relationship in which Mae does all of the household work. More dangerously, Mae has started to attend school. She desires to improve herself and to escape her surroundings. When Lloyd falls ill, Mae invites an older man, Henry, to visit the house, because Henry can read the medical pamphlet that the clinic has given to her. Impressed by Henry’s erudition, Mae invites Henry to move into the house, and soon he has replaced Lloyd in her bed.

The elegance of the set design is further enhanced by use of simple furniture pieces and projections that add a touch of Josef Svoboda to the look. Costumes by Jess Wegryzn effectively echo the abstracted set.

Dan Shanahan has directed the production, which is performed in stately, arguably ceremonial style by Bonnie Jean Taylor as Mae, Patrick Moltane as Lloyd, and Willie Judson as Henry. I felt, at times, that the didactic style of the production was pushed to excess, a decided reversal from previous Torn Space performances that have happily left audiences in opaque bewilderment. On this occasion, brilliant Maria Irene Fornes has arguably given us all we need to know with her words, which would have been nicely served with a cleaner, brisker, and more efficient rendering—especially as augmented by Siegel’s handsomely efficient and effective scenography.

Still, the overall impact of the evening is haunting, as the production successfully highlights the themes of the play.