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Marin Theatre Company's 'Bellwether' balances shock, humor

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Scared suburbanites: Gabriel Marin and Arwen Anderson play a couple whose daughter disappears in world premiere of Steve Yockey’s “Bellwether.” (courtesy photo)
  • Scared suburbanites: Gabriel Marin and Arwen Anderson play a couple whose daughter disappears in world premiere of Steve Yockey’s “Bellwether.” (courtesy photo)

“Bad things don’t happen here. We live in a nice neighborhood,” intones a chorus of residents of an affluent suburb, at the beginning of Los Angeles playwright Steve Yockey’s provocative little satire-cum-super-scary-fairytale, “Bellwether.”

This world premiere at Marin Theatre Company shocks and mocks in equal parts even as it preys upon every parent’s deepest fears.

Yockey (whose “Octopus” was staged at Magic Theatre a few years back) might have been influenced by such playwrights as Jordan Harrison, Neil Gaiman, and even writer Shirley Jackson; there’s a touch of “Desperate Housewives” in there, too.

But “Bellwether,” a mix of snarky social commentary and wrenching emotional truths, is its own oddball hybrid. Director Ryan Rilette and his cast and designers (especially Giulio Cesare Perrone’s two sets and Chris Houston’s eerie sound score) hit all the right notes.

Jackie (a fragile, distraught Arwen Anderson) and her husband, Alan (Gabriel Marin, powerfully affecting as an utterly undone dad), recently moved to this tony suburb, but Jackie’s restless. She misses the city.

So she drinks a little too much, is the teeniest bit neglectful of her 7-year-old daughter, Amy (Jessica Lynn Carroll).

“It’s so nice here I want to bludgeon myself!” she wails to Alan, who comes home late from the office, as usual.  “I don’t fit in here — I don’t know me here, or you, or Amy.”

But when did she last check on the little girl, upstairs in bed with her stuffed turtle?

When Amy mysteriously disappears, the roiling menace and machinations lurking beneath the gated community’s presumably tidy lawns, and behind the smiling faces of its homeowners, begin to gather force.

Yockey’s deft at sustaining the suspense and the sense of hidden evil even as he’s eliciting laughter — at vapid newscasters who report endlessly on the disappearance even when there’s no news; at clueless and callous detectives; at neighbors like meddlesome Maddy (an impressive Rachel Harker) and the others, who at first appear to be comic caricatures.

A nightmarish, if disappointingly vague, second act, featuring a wonderfully creepy Kathryn Zdan, ought to give you the chills — and maybe break your heart.

 


THEATER REVIEW
Bellwether

Presented by Marin Theatre Company

Where: 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $34 to $55
Contact: (415) 388.5208, www.marintheatre.org