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Daphne Howland

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Posted: January 5, 2015

Well-cast, nicely executed ‘Rush’ at Players Ring Theatre in Portsmouth feels like a work still in progress

Written by: Daphne Howland

The rules are different at the frontier, but civilization, for good and for ill, stubbornly encroaches. That is the essential set-up of playwright Callie Kimball’s “Rush,” which has its premier at the Players Ring Theatre in Portsmouth.

Kimball’s play has the flavor of a western, set at the brink of the 20th century. It follows Frank (Kyle Milner) and Belinda (Kate Gilbert), who are apparently seeking their fortune in Canada’s Yukon Territory in 1899. Her succinct title says a lot: Frank and Belinda are rushing from Chicago — whose pivotal avenue in the 19th century was Rush Street — to the Yukon’s gold rush. Are they chasing something, or running away?

Both, it turns out. Kimball unspools her tale only to wind it back up and unspool it anew. She chops up time and uses fragments of already seen episodes and already heard dialogue that lend spooky layers and sometimes spill a chilling detail.

“The odds are good,” says Rosie, (Liz Locke), who helps run a business that holds promise for Belinda’s salvation, “but the goods are odd.”

The goods are odd, indeed. There are some gruesome details, one in particular that makes its point on the surface but may be a little too heavy for the purpose it serves in this play. It’s Belinda’s tragic problem, though to elaborate more here would spoil too much.

Locke’s performance is especially strong in a well-cast, nicely executed play that at times feels like a work still in progress. Kimball’s dialogue is often poetic and her humor is hardly ever fizzy; even the snarliest observations have heft and sometimes rueful truth-telling. There are a few scenes, though, where a moment is belabored, stalling the action.

This production of “Rush” furthers the Players Ring dedication to staging original works, and the mission of director Jasmin Hunter’s Soul in the Sea Productions to feature works about women. Kimball herself is an emerging as a playwright with some accomplishments already under her belt and spends much of her time in Maine.

The play is very much about women and the fresh, if frozen, slate the frontier in many ways offered them. It’s something of a simplistic arc — where women prevail and men stumble — but Kimball balances the weight of the issues in a teeter-totter tale, even though she doesn’t delve very deeply. Things wrap up neatly, as they often do in Westerns, though no one rides into any sunset.

The costumes and set design are steeped in late-19th century style, interrupted by cinematic interludes that are stark and modern, yet thoroughly add to the piece. Set changes at the Players Ring’s black box are made in front of the audience by necessity. In “Rush” they occur in a gloaming light to moody ambient music that fit despite their 20th century techno flair. Hunter could have opted for some Western twang in these moments, but this ghostlike alternative furthers the mystery and the accumulating desperation we are slowly but surely made privy to.

THEATER REVIEW

WHAT: “Rush” by Callie Kimball directed by Jasmin Hunter, Soul in the Sea Productions
WHERE: Players Ring Theatre, 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth, New Hampshire
REVIEWED: Jan. 3; runs through Jan. 18
MORE: playersring.org

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