Great Falls doesn't look like much when you walk into the theater. The set is a beige carpet with some brush on either side, suggesting the vast western United States Lee Blessing is driving us into.
As the play gets going though, we discover we don't need much in terms of bells and whistles for a powerful night of theater. We get that from Blessing's words, achingly honest performances from Tom Nelis and Halley Wegryn Gross, and sensitive directing from Lucie Tiberghien. At first it seems we may be witnessing a kidnapping, as Gross' character taunts Nelis about what will happen to him in prison. But we quickly see that with all that 'tude, there's little fear. The 17-year-old girl may not have counted on a long trek from Omaha to Wyoming when she hopped in her ex-stepdad's car, but she's more along for the ride than her words suggest. And his affection is somewhat fatherly, not sinister. He's a writer who sees brilliance in the words his ex-stepdaughter pens, and he wants to maintain a relationship with her.
The pseudo-kidnapping is an effort to explain himself and the infidelities her perpetrated that eventually broke up his marriage to her mother.
So, it's not a kidnapping per se, but these two have a lot of baggage, and over the course of 90 minutes, they do engage in rough, bloody verbal combat. They both come across as authentic people who want to be good but have deep flaws, starting with their mutual narcissism. And the play itself goes into some uncomfortable areas. Let's just say the girl has experienced a bunch of things you hope would never happen to a teenage girl, but the police blotter and the courts affirm they happen far too often at the hands of predatory males.
Humana can frequently get wrapped up in high concepts and bells and whistles -- and scenic designer Paul Owen does have some nifty ways of introducing things such as hotel rooms and a museum to the play. But Blessing's play reminds us the essence of great theater is a strong script with acting and direction to match.