IMAGINING BRAD, Home Room Productions, at Cafe Voltaire. It's hard to praise this play without revealing the sinuous plot. Peter Hedges (who wrote the screenplay for the charmer What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) packs this 70-minute one-act with enough telling reversals to keep you absorbed to the bittersweet end. A former Chicagoan whose plays were debuted by the defunct Econo-Art Theatre, Hedges continues to justify his reputation.
Two Nashville women, married to very different men but both hiding dark secrets, meet at church. By play's end they've drastically changed fortunes and switched strengths. Bubbly, insecure southern belle Dana Sue Kaye has married her handsome high school sweetheart. The other lady is a secretive would-be country singer simply called Brad's Wife, Brad being a rich recluse who cannot make love to her. Undermining assorted romantic fictions, Hedges creates a huge contrast between the husbands and leaves us ruefully admitting that love is as love does; appearances mean nothing. In the meantime he also fully exploits the sardonic humor of a potentially ghoulish situation.
Directed by Robert Andrew White with perfect pitch, this deft local premiere fascinates. Tricia Kym Armstrong plays featherheaded Dana Sue with a ditzy arrogance that cries out for correction. Jenn-Anne Gledhill makes Brad's Wife a sober contrast, a surprisingly steady soul. (She also sings well enough to deserve Nashville.) All in all, this is one of the few delightful discoveries I've made at Cafe Voltaire in some time.