Two Mexican-American sisters struggle to make ends meet, living in a beat-up trailer. Their California address is not made clear, but you can probably bet it's not Beverly Hills; more like Bakersfield. The older sister, Marty, works double shifts as a waitress at a diner down the road from the trailer park. The younger one, Bean, is too unstable even to venture outside her screen door. An agoraphobic, she spends her days zoning out on CDs and television and her nights clutching a butcher knife, certain that serial killers are lurking outside. Marty cares for Bean and works her tail off at the diner, but she's over her head in debt and way behind on her bills. One day, an edgy new customer, Arlo, walks into the diner, an event that somehow cheers up Marty's bleak life. She's just punching in and doing her job. He's a loner with a chip on his shoulder. Despite that, a little romance begins to bloom. He's new to the area, on his way to repossess a car. What neither realizes is that he is going after hers.
That's the setup of a small-town drama that puts Arlo and the sisters in a desperate situation. He wants to help them, but he's fighting to keep his job. They tend to trust him even though his very presence means disaster and his romantic intentions look like deceit. And all three are haunted by hard-luck pasts full of sorrow and regret.
With all of that, you might expect a dark, contemporary spin on John Steinbeck, and in some ways you get it. This Boomerang isn't preachy, but it is deeply political, if only for presenting realistic characters in everyday situations, a decided departure (and relief) from the endless stream of glib urban yuppies that seems to have monopolized modern drama. These characters struggle with mundane matters -- with debt and joblessness, with loneliness, with just coping. They may be down and almost out, but they have dignity, intelligence, wit, and kindness. And Azurdia's tale isn't all about poverty and struggle. This is primarily an offbeat love story, and a funny, sweet one at that.
The script is happily matched with an excellent acting ensemble and production support. Adam Cronan delivers a touching, believable performance as Arlo, who to his surprise moves from suspicious loner to unlikely hero. Maria Heredia as Marty and Azurdia as Bean both offer charm and vulnerability. They get superb backup in Jerry Seeger, who does a hilarious turn as the scabrous, hypertense repo manager, and in David Cirone as the diner owner, whose paternal protection of Marty might mask some romantic longings of his own.
Paul Tei directs the quick-paced, rapid-fire sequence of short scenes with assurance. Once again, his cast comes through with a relaxed, cooperative acting style, though, as seems to be a company trait, the male characters tend to have more bite and emotional range than the women. When the men approach anger, the story could jump in any direction. But a major revelation scene between the sisters -- which should erupt in sorrow, fear, and fury -- feels rather tepid.
The regular Mad Cat production team is in fine form. Chris Jahn makes interesting use of the Light Project space, placing several minisets in a triangulated relationship. Travis Neff's light design creates some nifty mood shifts, from menacing to romantic. Karelle Levy's simple costume design is quietly effective, while Nathan Rausch's sound design is so evocative, it's a performance in itself.
Some local theaters have high aspirations that they have yet to achieve. But Mad Cat is one company that does what it sets out to do: establish an enduring creative ensemble; develop new plays in-house; deliver top-quality, modestly priced productions for and about real people and real life. If you have given up on live theater or never thought to go, catch Tin Box Boomerang, if only to see how effective live performance can be. But while you're at it, you'll get an extra bonus -- a play and a theater company with a clear ideological stance. These characters may be battered by life, but they somehow find strength to prevail. How? By caring for one another. Some give money, some give trust, all give love in one way or another. In this selfish, materialistic age, that's about as radical a message as you will find on any stage. Or any street.