A mysterious death in the family seems to be linked to a retarded sister who's unable to tell her siblings what she saw or did, in the imaginative, character-driven drama "Equal Protection."
By JOSHUA TANZER
"Equal Protection" is an unusual family story, neither celebrating warmth nor laughing at dysfunctionality neither the Waltons nor the Simpsons. It focuses on a retarded girl, now grown pretty nearly to adulthood and still living with her mother in rural Michigan while her father has long since left, her brother has married and divorced, and her sister has moved to Detroit to pursue a TV career. And this is not just a simple drama about relationships it's a unique kind of murder mystery.
One day Natasha (Lisa Catherine Clark), the sister in Detroit, gets a call from her retarded twin Natalie (Darcy Bledsoe) which sounds like nothing at first but suddenly gives her a creepy feeling.|
"Natasha, come home. Come home now," says Natalie.
"You know I'm coming home next week," Natasha answers.
"You can't say it's an emergency every time."
Sensing that something's wrong but unable to get a clear answer over the phone, Natalie decides to make the five-hour drive home in the snow. When she gets there, brother Alex (Joe Rejeski) has already come over to discover the horrible truth their mother is dead in bed. This explains why Natalie was hungry and couldn't do anything about it; what is not clear is how she died, alone in the house with her daughter and with no sign of intruders or a struggle. Could Natalie be responsible, and if so, why? And how will they find out the truth when she can't answer even simple questions about what happened?
This is the premise of "Equal Protection," and it's a strange mystery story indeed because the lead witness/suspect has the mental age of a small child and is likely to throw a tantrum when under stress. Finally, it's up to Natasha, who's always had a special empathy with her twin, to get the truth out of her or as close to the truth as possible under the circumstances. I'm still not convinced that the case is settled by the end.
Ann Warren's play is built on characters, especially those of sister Natasha and brother Alex, both torn between wanting to have lives of their own and guilt over leaving their mother behind to care for the difficult Natalie by themselves. The actors are outstanding all around, but especially Clark and Rejeski in these two roles. The play also has a deft touch for the personal crises and conflicts that families keep intimately secret behind their walls.
|AUGUST 17, 2001|
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