The Austin Chronicle

Are We on the Edge?

Answers to timely and timeless questions at the Long Fringe

By Robi Polgar, January 30, 2004, Arts

The Bateman Trilogy

Ken Webster

Running Time: 1 hr, 35 min

First off, lest anyone accidentally mistake me for George F. Will or William F. Buckley (What is with the "F," anyway? Surely it isn't "Fascist"; perhaps "Freeloader" or "Feckless"), Ken Webster, who penned and directed this dark and darkly funny trilogy, has been singular in his help with an ongoing project of mine. That said, it doesn't take an "insider" to see that Webster has developed a fine playwright's voice of his own to go along with his strong directorial style: a now-familiar blend of personable realism and sanity-straining situations into which he's dropped many a character.

His writer's twang and directorial thrust are quite evident in these plays: Each skitters along the line dividing reality from absurdity, allowing characters greater insight into their foibles, as well as the opportunity to tell their compelling stories in more depth to the curious audience.

The three shorts span five years with the family Bateman and kin, working-class suburbanite Texans, about as normal as you'd expect, until you start to really examine them. In "Thanksgiving at the Batemans," it's all systems go for the returning brothers and sisters of clan Bateman, except that their deceased father apparently has made an unexpected homecoming. In "Jury Duty," Bruce Bateman sits on a jury that must choose a suitable punishment for a crack-addicted woman responsible for the death of her male sometime-companion – we're offered insight into the formerly unspoken thoughts of a variety of players to get a fly-on-the-wall understanding of the stresses of a trial's participants. In "Family Tradition," an acquaintance of the Batemans marries into a Utah family, only to slowly uncover her real duties as family matriarch.

In all three plays, Webster offers up plenty of wry wit, some deeply felt political opinions, and a survivalist's sense for getting past the truly challenging obstacles that life throws in people's paths. Jude Hickey (a recent arrival to Austin and already a gem among local actors) plays Bruce Bateman, confounded jurist in the middle play, and the one son unwilling to accept the return of his father in the first play. In the final piece, he's the eldest again, keeping a lid on his kin while hiding that terrible family secret. Hickey is natural throughout, and the personal cost to his characters in each play can be felt in his strong, simple portrayals. Andrea Skola offers up three increasingly edgy characters, deeply wrought and very real. Kelsey Kling's trio of characters includes the desperately rough Rebecca Wallace – murderess or self-defender – another disturbingly realistic portrayal. Joel Gross provides a boy-next-door brightness; and Laetitia Leon gets a fine, dry monologue, putting things in perspective about dead Dad's return that fateful Thanksgiving.

Webster has been working in town since the early 1980s, and this glimpse at what makes the man tick is definitely worth the price of admission; the simple yet tightly orchestrated performances of his ensemble help cast a brief spotlight on the more private side of a local artist who's found a devoted following over the years. (no more performances)

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