An electric current runs through Portland playwright Ellen Margolis’ new work, Licking Batteries
. With fireflies, lightning storms, static electricity and an arcane contraption of tangled wires and a lemon, the production looks for sparks everywhere—and, ultimately, in too many places. The play, joltingly directed by Ryan Reilly, revolves around Lucy (Rachel Rosenfeld), a girl grappling to unravel the mysteries of electricity in hopes of better understanding her mother, Louise, who’s undergone electroshock therapy as treatment for mental illness. Louise’s memories are fuzzy, her thoughts confused, her body weak. Is electricity to blame? Or could it be Louise’s savior? Blending realism and fantasy, Licking Batteries
zaps between flashbacks, dreamlike sequences and several tiresome scenes that require actor David Knell to affect overblown foreign accents. The most compelling moments occur when characters collide in uncomfortable situations, as in a positively combustible lab scene with Lucy, her boyfriend and her father. But scenes that stretch for emotional profundity come up short, hampered by hackneyed dialogue (“Do you ever feel you’ve been wandering in the pitch black for years?”) and thematic overextension. Characters’ exchanges hint at issues of anxiety, despair, loss and mania, but the story’s wiring is tenuous, and the mysteries surrounding electricity so opaque that they frustrate more than they intrigue. With a cast that’s uneven though good-natured, this production never manages to hold a steady charge.
2257 NW Raleigh St.Website: http://www.cohoproductions.org/