Review: ‘Wrecked’ by Greg Kalleres at Contemporary American Theater Festival

Ah, the perfect relationship – not yours, of course, never yours. I’m talking about the one that other couple has; you know who I’m talking about, they’re always such great fun, always quick with a drink and a joke, ready to listen to your tales of woe, always so caring of each other, so close it’s hard to tell one from the other.

Julia Coffey as Victoria and Chris Thorn as John in 'Wrecked' at Contemporary American Theater Festival. Photo by Seth Freeman Photography.
Julia Coffey as Victoria and Chris Thorn as John in ‘Wrecked’ at Contemporary American Theater Festival. Photo by Seth Freeman Photography.

Really? You call that perfect?

Playwright Greg Kalleres explores the dark side of ‘perfect’ in witty, gut-wrenching fashion with Wrecked, a tragicomedy set in a Midwestern home. Briskly paced, with more than its share of sharp curves and head-spinning U-turns, Wrecked bristles with sharp, comic dialogue tempered by moments of doubt and guilt that are as deep as you can imagine. It also offers the perfect antidote to that myth of perfection which hounds us all.

Wrecked centers on one of those annoyingly perfect couples, Victoria (Julia Coffey) and John (Chris Thorn), who return home and try to recall what—or whom—they might have hit with their car during their rainy evening’s ride home. As becomes clear a few minutes into this couple’s conversation, the seeming ease of their tones of voice masks a mountain’s worth of friction—undeniable, but equally impossible to explore. Through a series of verbal cues, they direct each other towards and away from that horrible accident.

Where were they? At the theatre, of course, watching a good friend of theirs – Lynn (Megan Bartle) – in a local production. I mention this because Lynn arrives in the middle of Victoria and John’s argument about the accident, immediately steals the spotlight (well duh, she’s the actress) and takes her perfect friends completely off guard. And off subject.

Or so it seems. A fourth person arrives at the house, under circumstances I won’t get into here (might spoil your fun!), and an already chaotic evening goes directly to full-scale entropy.

Kalleres has a great ear for dialogue, and when Victoria decides to inflict a little personal therapy on her bestie Lynn, there is just enough chaos to make you wonder where things are headed. A good play should make you forget where you’re going, actually, and although some might quibble with the way in which Kalleres finally wraps things up, the lessons of the evening are clear and either heart-warming or cautionary and chilling (depending on the kind of relationship you’re in).

As Victoria, Julia Coffey—familiar to Washington audiences for her turn at Studio as Hedda Gabler—gives us the velvet-and-steel of a woman desperate to control her world, her husband included. Her immaculately-appointed living room (kudos to Jesse Dreikosen, for this fully-realized middle-class nightmare) is a testament to her need for perfection—a perfection that is rudely, hilariously soiled at one point.

Chris Thorn as John in 'Wrecked' at Contemporary American Theater Festival. Photo by Seth Freeman Photography.
Chris Thorn as John in ‘Wrecked’ at Contemporary American Theater Festival. Photo by Seth Freeman Photography.

Chris Thorn, in a fine turn as her husband John, gives you a combination of gentle persuasiveness and quiet desperation that comes from living in a self-imposed cage of a marriage. His calm, and his seemingly low-key approach to catastrophe, slowly but inexorably give way as the events of the evening come back to haunt him; it is ultimately his responsibility to guide a panicked Victoria back to her old, pre-crash self (for better and worse, it seems).

Megan Bartle’s turn as Lynn, the theatrical friend, is as priceless and over-the-top as you could possibly wish for. Her utter self-absorption is a stark contrast to John and Victoria’s commitment to teamwork, and her relationship troubles quickly suck the air out of a room that was filled with an entirely different tension just a few minutes before.

As Alex, Tom Coiner is the last to enter our perfect Midwestern home on this dark and stormy night. The less said about why Alex shows up the better; suffice it to say Coiner’s comic gifts are on full display, and he is responsible for one of the most surreal and memorable sight-gags ever conceived. (Again, not a word – it’s priceless, it’s desperate, and you’ll be begging for mercy).

Director Shelley Butler has done Kalleres a fine turn, managing the twists and turns of the plot here with great skill; the production’s final image, tinged as it is with both doubt and relief, is a testament to her ability to force the audience to contain seemingly contradictory thoughts in their minds at the same time.

Beth Goldenberg’s costumes offer just the sort of contrast between Midwestern button-down conformity and theatrical flamboyance you’d need to pull this one off. Tony Galaska’s lights effectively capture the seeming normalcy of a Midwestern professional’s home; but my own personal highlight is Sound Designer David Remedios’ Garage-Door-From-Hell, so nightmarish it would give Stephen King the creeps. The door, whose ball bearings must have gone out waaay back in the previous century, shrieks and creaks in ways that clearly refer to the true volume at which Victoria and John should be shouting at each other.  Opening and closing this door, moreover, heightens the tension in the room in very interesting ways.

For those who love a good, gritty show about relationships, not only is Wrecked the perfect night out; the great news is that three members of the cast of Wrecked – Coffey, Thorn and Coiner—also have star turns in another great comedy in repertory here in Shepherdstown: Ellen Fairey’s comic study of dudes, Support Group for Men.

Wrecked performs in the round at the Marinoff Theatre, while Support Group plays at the Frank Center stage. Be sure to read about that one too, and plan a trip to enjoy several of the shows the Contemporary American Theatre Festival has on offer this month!

Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission.

Wrecked runs through July 28 at the Marinoff Theater at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, as part of the Contemporary American Theater Festival. For tickets, email the box office at info@catf.org, call 800.999.CATF (2283) and select extension 1; or go online.