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Rustic Adventures

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Rustic Adventures, Breadline Theatre Group. Paul Kampf may have been born one generation too late. Had he penned American Gothic, say, three decades ago, it might have been taken for what it is: a paranoid, harrowing tale of three brothers struggling to reconcile their differences in a cramped cabin in the woods. It's a scenario straight out of Sam Shepard, equal parts True West (relationships forged through brutality) and Buried Child (fractured notions of home and family). But American Gothic is informed by these two works to such a degree that it threatens to be overwhelmed by Shepard's ghosts.

There are moments when American Gothic transcends pastiche, and snippets of naturalistic dialogue that make the play seem something other than a forgery. A palpable menace shrouds each of the three brothers' actions, and director Michael Oswalt does well in speeding the play toward its inevitable violent conclusion. His cast works overtime to keep the material afloat, with Matthew Ellegood contributing the strongest performance as the underprivileged Rick, the most tragic of the play's figures. Ellegood makes him a brazenly self-destructive free spirit who swings wildly between seething resentment and unbridled fury. Unfortunately, his performance is the only unpredictable element of Breadline's production.

Kampf's comic Child's Play, playing in rotating repertory with American Gothic, also has a great conceit--five nutcases thrown together on a rustic "life awareness" retreat--and little else. Kampf never strives to find a balance between comedy and drama in either of his plays--his characters are raving lunatics or depressive mopes--so all seven actors in Child's Play perform at the same furious pitch. Worse, Kampf can't resist foreshadowing. "This is going to be hell," intones reluctant retreat participant Andrew throughout the awkward proceedings, as audience expectations die a more gruesome death than most of the characters.

--Nick Green

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