POSTED: 16 JULY 2010

Crooked, by Catherine Trieschmann

New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 17 July (New Directions season continues until 7 August — READ STORY)

New Directions is New Theatre’s annual mini-season, and over four weeks they will be showcasing some of the best contemporary writing for theatre.

Crooked kicks off the season in a fabulously funny fashion.

There is a satirical wickedness but kindness about Crooked, which was written by young US playwright Catherine Trieschmann. It is a send-up of America’s rapidly expanding Bible Belt but also comments on important concerns regarding religion, mental health and sexual awakening by exploring the curious closeness connecting the recently arrived Laney and Mirabel, a born-again Christian,.

Laney arrives in Mississippi with ambitions of becoming a writer. Her portfolio, however, consists of violent, fantastical short stories.  Also, she is suffering from a condition known as dystonia, which hunches her spine, ensuring that she is fated to be bullied at her new school... until she is befriended by Maribel.

Desperate to maintain this friendship, Laney begins to merge fact with fiction in an attempt to create an alternative reality.

The teenagers, played by Lib Campbell and Sarah Blackstone, are both exceptionally realised pieces of observation, equal parts self-consciousness and experimentation and driven by exuberance and apprehension.

Campbell, as the precocious, 14-year-old Laney, skilfully occupies the body of a klutzy, disturbed adolescent and successfully endears herself to the audience.

Blackstone is superb as the evangelical Maribel, the preacher’s daughter, hell-bent on trying to convert Laney to The  Holiness Church of the Redeemer.

Maribel is intellectually remedial and ostracised and also suffers from invisible stigmata. Blackstone plays her with a sweetness, naivety and comedic talent but adds a troubling complexity to her depiction.

These lonesome and damaged children are strange and totally credible with believable dimension due to Trieschmann’s authentic teenage dialogue and Nastassja Djalog’s expert direction of their duologues.

Elly Goodman as Laney’s trendy, solid and sensible Mum is less convincing, as she struggles to enforce tough love and expose Laney’s lies and fantasies. Snippets of dialogue reveal Laney’s father mental illness and its impact on Laney’s perception of herself and it is at this point in the drama that we fully understand her.

The play is precisely ordered and my only concern was that the scene transitions were not as seamless as the writing requires. However Adam Chandler’s set design allowed for studio intimacy and, combined with some very fine acting, it was a most engaging night at the theatre. Be quick – unfortunately it has a very limited run.

American playwright Catherine Trieschmann ... Comments on important concerns regarding religion, mental health and sexual awakening.