Two Small Bodies
As theatrical and literary styles go, few have clutched the interest of writers as continuously as noir. Maybe the mode never died out enough to be resurrected. Maybe it has been stretched out for the better part of a century in a vast number of films, novels and plays. But if it ever did die out, it has risen again in a cavalcade of neo-noir tales mixing the classic ingredients of the genre—sex, murder and mystery—with a twist of the contemporary.
The sexual revolution blew the door wide open for eroticism, and for modern noir, the seedier, the better. By that standard, playwright Neal Bell’s contribution to the genre, Two Small Bodies, does not disappoint. The play opens tonight at the Sub-Brüka Theatre and is directed by Karen Chandler, who helmed the same production at the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City in 2006.
“Very few people got to see it [at Brewery Arts], and the play is really worthy of a broader audience,” said Mary Bennett of Brüka Theatre.
Two Small Bodies is an intimate, two-actor drama centering on two missing children whose mother, Eileen (Catherine Cook), is of dubious morality and also a suspect in the disappearance. Lieutenant Brann (Peter Coates) is the investigator pursuing all leads in the case, many of which lead him inexorably into the bed of his prime suspect.
Lt. Brann is both repulsed and fascinated by Eileen’s apparent lack of emotion in the wake of her children’s disappearance. Though he is extremely cynical and often confusingly moralizing, Brann checks nothing at the door—including his sexual appetite—during his frequent interrogatory visits to Eileen’s apartment.
Portrayed as a modern-day Circe in maternal clothing, the character of Eileen (played by Catherine Cook) is loosely based on Alice Crimmins, a young mother accused of murdering her two children in 1965. Exacerbating her supposed guilt in the court of public opinion was the fact that Crimmins was found to have enjoyed sexual relationships with several men, none of which included her estranged husband. In 1977, the year in which Two Small Bodies was originally produced, the Crimmins case was finally winding down after more than a decade of very public trials.
Although it is ripped from the headlines of its day, Two Small Bodies attempts to explore the complex human relationships that form in the midst of tragedy rather than wallow in courtroom drama.
“Here are two people who wouldn’t necessarily be put together in normal life, living with the circumstances of a tragedy,” said Bennett.
The play is overtly sexual in nature, which seems odd at first glance considering that the central problem concerns two innocent children. The relationship between Eileen and Lt. Brann, however, feels unsettlingly realistic. Even so, the production was built for adult audiences, a set of viewers that Bennett hopes will bring a mature, open-minded perspective to the theater.
“We are doing a lot of adult-style theater, which we think pushes the limits with sexuality and language,” she said. “We want the audience to stretch. We also want the actors to stretch and to honor the material.”
With a sparse set design and a sparse cast, Two Small Bodies is poised to deliver an intense, keyhole foray into the troubling intimacy sometimes born of strain and loss.