Saturday night will be the last night of Knox’s New Plays Festival experiment, and everyone involved in this last production, “Crash by Sunny Bow Mar Lake,” pushed themselves to ensure it will end well.
The play, written by Ben Lee ’12, tells the story of a dysfunctional little family in affluent Bow Mar, Colo. The Kembles try to live their lives as if nothing is wrong, but under the surface, everything is.
Their pattern is broken up when the father, Allen (junior Andrew Cook), brings home a stranger with a mysterious connection to Allen’s past (T.J., played by freshman Ned Babbott). It does not take long for T.J.to get inside everyone’s heads and change the family permanently.
Lee’s script is a bombastic piece that more often is based on how it can evoke the emotions it wants than on its real world plausibility. Director and theater professor Liz Carlin-Metz seemed to use this to her advantage by pushing her actors to match the play’s over-the-top characters.
The play’s humor and even the plot itself work best in an environment where the audience sits back and is willing to accept whatever the play will dole out next. Whether it be cereal and orange juice or picnic lightning, the play is best experienced when the viewer allows it to all wash over them.
Sometimes, however, there are things that the viewer cannot accept quite so readily. The central mystery of the play is T.J.. All that the audience knows for sure is that Al and T.J. say that T.J. is the son of a woman from Allen’s past, but whether he is his son, nephew or just a son of an old friend shifts constantly as things are revealed or revised.
This question makes viewers question everything they see as T.J. attempts to charm and sometimes seduce the Kemble family, who could be anything from old family friends to his own half siblings and step mother.
This is certainly not a bad thing. It is, in fact, really good. It keeps the audience’s feelings of suspense and interest high. However, the audience is happy to keep guessing because they think when the smoke finally clears, they will know who T.J. is and what he is doing at the little house on Sunny Bow Mar Lake.
By the end, the audience has found out who T.J. is, and even after it feels like every possibility has been suggested, Lee manages to keep some surprises hidden in the reveal. However, T.J.’s motivations for being at the house (revenge, closure, curiosity or something else entirely) are still unclear.
Arguments could be made for one motivation or another, but after experiencing what is sometimes called a play’s strip tease — more and more is revealed as the play goes along but not too much, so that the audience is still left wanting more — by the end of the play, I wanted more bared than the script ever cared to show.