he room is dark except for the flickering blue light of a television set. A middle -aged man and woman sleep soundly in bed as audience members, seated in the bedroom of a very pricey, Monument Avenue home, look on.
Faint noises from outside the bedroom window intrude into the scene. A brief silence, then something at the window. Slowly it begins to open. Someones's breaking in, trying not to make too much noise. A man crawls in, followed by a young woman. They embrace. He whispers it'll be all right. Everything will go as planned.
The opening scene of Yellow House's new production is a tense one. "Duct-Tape to Family-Time," directed by Justin Dray, has taken playwright Clay McLeod Chapman's original work out of the theater and staged it within two real bedrooms in Dray's parents' home. That fact would remain simply a novelty, and the play simply lurid melodrama, were it not for Dray's superb directorial hand and its subtle touches.
Take the prelude. Audience members are advised to arrive early in order to relax before the show. Pictures of a seemingly charming family rest on the coffee and end tables. A clock ticks away on the mantel. As audience members walk about with refreshments in the dining room and people quietly sit or mingle around they are sucked into the Singer's wealthy world, intoxicated by the narcotic comforts of the good life.
Two short scenes later we have learned that all is not so comfortable within the Singer household. The expensive brick masonry that encloses this family hides secrets and lies that will bring ruin to the little clan of four.
Chapman's play isn't new, so maybe he can't help that his tale seems a little tired, what with all the "American Beauties" running around these days. The 2000 block of Monument Avenue is not exactly the suburbs, but its trim squares aren't that far off from the illusory landscape of Lester Burnham or the diseased lawns growing in Todd Solondz's "Happiness."
Yet, with all its pretentious intent to remove the rose-colored glasses, there is never a false moment in the gasping breaths of this violent play. The wake-up call is figurative and literal in that first bedroom when Mr. and Mrs. Singer (Jerry Long and Elizabeth Cusack) wake with a start to face the wild eyes of Walter (Beauregard Rue Marie).
Marie fills Walter with a loser's rage, a mix of indignation and spite boiling over into revenge. Pacing about the room, delivering a rant of justifications for the brutality unfolding, he's a long-sleeved undershirt and jeans stuffed with magisterial menace.
There is just as much real life in Lori Singer (Stephanie Kelley), the eldest daughter and Walter's underage girl. Kelley flops around the second bedroom in Scene 2 just like the 15-year-old she's portraying would. Girls like Lori are at a point in life when emotions are at war, and Kelley is appropriately intelligent, willful, angry, innocent and downright foolish at various moments. She even tries her hand at savagery.
Many more memorable surprises than the violent ones await audiences at the top of the Singer stairs, however. The ingeniously played family video, the family pictures and the synchronicity of scenes are the kind of fine brush strokes that make this more than a shock piece. But of all Dray's touches, timing is his most powerful. When Lori strokes the image of her sister's televised face, the digital video slows to a pause, and when we descend the stairs at the bitter end we see the sickly sweet Singer family portrait placed on a table at the bottom. Timing is the glue that makes "Duct-Tape" stick. S"Duct-Tape to Family-Time" showings continue at 8 p.m. on April 4-6, 11-13 and 18-20. Tickets are $7-$12. Reservations required. 254-2610.