It's nice, for a change, to go to a cramped little New York City theater and see a play that's not about cramped little twenty-somethings living in a cramped little New York City apartment. Not that our grungy behemoth of a hive-town isn't a cauldron of fuel for creativity – it sure as hell is. But, loath as we can be to admit it, there's life outside the city, a lot of it. And that life can be very similar to our own – indeed recognizably human in surprisingly many ways!
Fault Lines, inspired by the true story of the Polly Klaas kidnapping, takes us to the Northern California home of Bethany, a 32-year-old mother of twins receiving a visit from two childhood friends. Though nervous and hyper, chatty Bethany is also a distinctly West Coast type: new-agey without being self-consciously fashionable about it. Over a compact and fast-paced hour, what seems at first an innocent get-together of old girlfriends is revealed, bit by bit, to be something far more significant. As girls, the three – along with a now-absent fourth – shared a trauma that has bonded them for life.
Homey Bethany, played with acute sensitivity by the excellent Jenna Doolittle, is joined first by bitter, angry Kat (Anaïs Alexandra, who is a skilled actress but could stand to tone her performance down a tad to suit the tiny size of the theater). Then Jessica (the playwright Rebecca Louise Miller) arrives, a jet-setting activist the course of whose life and work has been set by the nationally famous crime the girls witnessed twenty years earlier. She's tailed by a dogged but sensitive TV reporter (Tobin Ludwig) seeking interviews with the women.
Layers of story lurking beneath the obvious methodically come to light: Jessica's political activism has had an unwanted effect on Kat's family; Bethany, in a kind of religious fervor, has been seeing ghosts and consorting with the enemy. It all cascades towards a satisfying, thought-provoking finish.
The pleasures of this production are several. The enjoyable performances and David Epstein's moody, appropriately ambient direction solidly support Ms. Miller's skillful storytelling and realistic, witty, and pointed dialog. The set, sound, and lighting create suitably sombre moods, though the vivid personalities of the characters and the sparkling dialogue never let the seriousness of the story sink to the maudlin.
Fault Lines runs through Dec. 19 at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre in the Abingdon Theatre Complex (312 West 36 St.). Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling TheaterMania at 212-352-3101 or online.