GUESS WHO'S BACK IN TOWN

The curtain opens on a dishevelled Bubba (Travis York) lying on the floor wearing only one orange sock, yards away from a contraption of bottles and gongs he has rigged to periodically go off and force him to pay attention. Pay attention to what, one might ask? And ask again when this play's rather arresting beginning begins to disintegrate into too many scenes with slow pacing and mundane dialogue before tying up all its plot elements neatly in the end.

(Pay attention to his research is the correct answer.)

Bubba's research involves investigating the history of ghosts in the town where he has grown up and still lives, albeit housebound and morose since his former girlfriend D'Lady (a crisp Sarah Kate Jackson) ran off three years ago.

As it turns out, once on the road, D'Lady also abandoned her partner-in-illicit-getaway and Bubba's best friend Jimmy (Mark David Watson). Abruptly ditched in Colorado, Jimmy then fell in love with a mystical woman living in a melon patch named Betsy (Keira Keeley), who has since hitchhiked to town on a mission to find Jimmy.

Other local inhabitants include community pillar and resident kill-joy Gloria (a dogged Marielle Heller) and Roy and Amory, a young married couple trying to conceive. Gloria eventually rescues the homeless waif Betsy (decidely lacking in any discernable skills beyond the melon patch) and showers passive-aggression on her newly dependent boarder.

D'Lady returns to town as the prodigal bad girl, stirring up layers of buried emotion in those who previously knew her. These scenes stood out because the tension during them was real, including an uneasy exchange between D'Lady and the married Roy (Ben Scaccia) and a heartfelt confrontation with Bubba.

However, one gets the impression that the playwright lacked faith that the story of a woman returning to face the wreckage of her past and the commotion she stirs up would be compelling enough without the extracurricular ghost activities. Unfortunately, these forays into the supernatural are confusing and distract from the main plot. The supernatural themes that continue throughout the play (imagined ghost sightings and the endless melon patch monologues) never really work except as a vague metaphor for people who find their way to this small town for resolution of some sort.

Solid direction and moments of honest acting by some of the cast (Travis York and a physically expressive Havilah Brewster as Amory in particular) helped to overcome the more confusing etheral elements. Yet, despite its promising patches, the play did not succeed in commanding my sustained attention.

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