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      Broken Boughs
    Ho "broken"

    "Broken Boughs" by suspense-story wonder-boy Clay McLeod Chapman features one great, disturbing tale about a fading prostitute, but the rest of the stories aren't quite a match for the talented cast.


    From the already-accomplished 24-year-old author of last year's "Rise Perverts Rise" (part of the long-running Pumpkin Pie Show) comes "Broken Boughs," another set of four vignettes emphasizing the dark side of human nature.

    Written by: Clay McLeod Chapman.
    Directed by: Charles Loffredo.
    Cast: Heather Grayson, Brian Schany, Hanna Cheek, Matt Tomasino, Patricia Randell.

    Related links: Clay McLeod Chapman
    Clay McLeod Chapman specializes in tales of the supernatural, bizarre or merely unexpected, many of them newly collected in the book "Rest Area." These particular ones, all related to parents and their tormented children, are not consistently among his best, but there are some moving moments and strong performances by the stellar five-person cast.

    Chapman's talents show up in big and small ways — in this case, especially the small ones. For one, he has a way with the twist of a phrase that makes you see a grisly scene in an especially jarring way. In the first scene, a Confederate mother (Heather Grayson of the excellent "After the Storm" and "Triptych") browses a Civil War battlefield still full of corpses, looking for her newly slain son. "This field is so littered with so many fresh faces," she observes with an authentic Southern lilt, "it's like sifting through fruit that's already fallen from the tree." Ewwww, suddenly in your mind those plump round faces are lying on the ground turning brown and oozing fruit juice.

    The other thing Chapman does great is writing monologues (sometimes dialogues) that allow one person just standing there to paint in the entire scene with words. "Duct Tape to Family Time" (featuring "Rise Perverts Rise" standout Hanna Cheek) starts with just two actors, two chairs and a bed, which through the power of words and delivery quickly become five people — the other three aren't on stage but you can practically see them just the same with a crispness that stimulates the imagination.

    The problem with the first three plays, though, is that they don't stand up to Chapman's best in terms of the big picture. That is, his Gothic tales usually build toward a gruesome twist or are spiced throughout with a pinch of the bizarre. These stories don't really fit the pattern. "A Step Off from Fathering," about a possibly brutal stepdad defending himself to his stepson on his last day with the family, is pretty obvious and doesn't end either conclusively or intriguingly.

    Only the last segment, "Milking Cherry," measures up in this respect. It's the story of an aging New Orleans prostitute — getting a little used up, maybe, and never able to compete with the sexier gals for the best dates — who now eagerly offers her body for men to cut with a knife instead of merely using her sexually. Here is a bizarre premise indeed — a fetish seemingly too twisted to be true, yet symbolically very real. And maybe it's not an unheard-of fetish, at that, although in the best tradition of these gross-out tales, I really don't want to think about it. Patricia Randell (previously a show-stealer as the ghost of Greer Garson in "Random Harvest" as well as appearing in "Triptych") gets the full theatrical intensity from this short play about the used, scarred and discarded woman and the experience that first set her on this path. It's the one edge-of-the-seat thriller that fully lives up to expectations in this program.

    FEBRUARY 17, 2002

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