The Hill Town Plays
If you’ve seen one of Lucy Thurber’s harshly realistic, dramatically meandering plays about rural America and the desire to escape from it, you’ve seen them all. So why did Off-Broadway’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre bother to produce five of them at once?
Together, they are billed as “The Hill Town Plays” and performed simultaneously in different West Village theaters.
Although each play has its own characters, when viewed together, they easily blur together in the depiction of a young woman from a backwoods Massachusetts town who escapes her family, discovers her sexual identity and becomes a writer.
However, her family still manages to creep violently back into her new life. As they say in “Rent,” “You can take the girl out of Hicksville, but you can’t take the Hicksville out of the girl.”
“Scarcity,” Thurber’s best play, is receiving a genuinely compelling revival. It explores how the girl’s brother, also desperate to escape the family, is willing to exploit those around him to get a full ride to a fancy boarding school and, in the process, desert her.
In “Ashville” and “When We’re Born,” the girl starts moving on from her roots and exploring her feelings for other women. They are middling, uninteresting scene studies that contain a few convincing performances.
“Killers and Other Family,” the most brutally violent play, where the girl’s brother and ex-boyfriend turn up and wreck havoc, is also the most artificially constructed and heartless.
“Stay,” no doubt the worst play, is a nonsensical nightmare.
Although Thurber’s plays fit together neatly as a cycle, their similarities stress how Thurber is a mediocre writer who was unworthy of such lavish attention. Here’s hoping Rattlestick finds better programming the next time it presents a festival.