Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 50 / 14 December 2017
 

Missing person

Theatre


A police detective (Danny Wolohan) reviews evidence with distraught parents (Arwen Anderson and Gabriel Marin) when their little girl goes missing in Bellwether, having its world premiere at Marin Theatre Company.
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ADVERTISMENT

It's a story that almost doesn't need a playwright to be told. But that "almost" is a big one in the case of Bellwether. This is a story of a child who goes missing, the parents' frantic appeals to the police and the public to help find their precious offspring, the increasing media attention, and the accusing finger you just know is going to turn 180 to point back at the parents.

That is the setup that playwright Steve Yockey gives us in Bellwether, having its world premiere at Marin Theatre Company, where Yockey is a former Playwright in Residence. Yockey's career began in Atlanta (he now lives in Los Angeles) and has been blossoming on the national stage. Earlier Yockey productions in SF include the apocalyptic gay sex story Octopus and the calamitous straight sex story Skin.

There is no sex in Bellwether, other than a single sentence that might imply abuse in circumstances too murky for conclusions. Where and by whom this sentence is spoken is what warrants the "almost" qualified in the top paragraph. These are circumstances that yank the story from its place as an exaggerated portrait of the snowballing ugly side of human nature in picture-book suburbia and an easy send-up of breathless TV journalism that feeds on the same.

This mind-blowing development in the second act that upends all expectations in what had been a predictable scenario will not be revealed here. But it can be said to be mysterious, disturbing, thought-provoking, and ultimately inexplicable. Shrouded with such opacity, it's hard to say if, dramatically, it "works." But it does add an ethical dilemma that the character in question may very well answer incorrectly in terms of a greater societal good.

Director Ryan Rilette has skillfully staged the play in which both realism and intentional cliche rub shoulders, while he elicits the angst and longing needed to wrap us up in the unmentionable scenes as well. Arwen Anderson and Gabriel Marin are excellent as the parents of the missing girl who begin to turn on each other, with Anderson connecting with stunning emotional intensity when she travels to that point unknown. Highlights among the ensemble of neighbors, cops, and others include Danny Wolohan, Rachelle Harker, and Jessica Lynn Carroll.

Bellwether is a play that is more than the sum of its parts, as a movie-of-the-week situation and a light buffoonery of the real-life dynamics of those situations become a conduit for deep questions as a sonic boom presages the passage into a world of different rules and realities. What does it all mean? I don't know. But it has kept me thinking.

 

Bellwether will run at Marin Theatre Company through Oct. 30. Tickets are $34-$55. Call 388-5208 or go to www.marintheatre.org.






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