Desert women

Strange Sightings in the Great Southwest

Karyn Casl makes over Megan Cook while Trish Adair looks on disapprovingly in <span style="">Strange Sightings in the Great Southwest</span>.

Karyn Casl makes over Megan Cook while Trish Adair looks on disapprovingly in Strange Sightings in the Great Southwest.

Rated 4.0

Start with two sisters living in an obscure location. One’s upright and uptight: a homebody who affects an English accent, writes nasty notes to her neighbor about flag etiquette and manages her daughter’s life to a degree that drives the poor girl nuts. The other sister is a total contrast: five times married, five times divorced and still reaching for the zipper when she meets a new man. Lastly, add the daughter of the upright sister, who wants to get out but has difficulty doing so because she uses a wheelchair.

That’s the basic layout for Foothill Theatre Company’s Strange Sightings. It’s a somewhat whimsical and lyrical comedy (with scattered episodes of darker feelings) by Jacklyn Maddux, who acted in Joe Papp’s Public Theater in New York in decades past and has now settled in the foothills. (Maddux was recently seen in the Grass Valley production of The Madwoman of Chaillot.)

The play’s setup—differing sisters having it out in glorious isolation—resembles the goofy Sugar Bean Sisters currently playing at the Studio Theatre, right down to the scene where a sister chugs from a whiskey bottle. But where Sugar Bean’s modus operandi is “Southern Gothic weird,” Strange Sightings is more introspective, language-driven and decidedly more artful, with a cathartic and touching ending.

Director Sands Hall is a natural with material by and about women. She gets a marvelous performance from the versatile Karyn Casl, who’s gutsy as the oversexed Kitty Brazil. Casl looks dangerous in a skimpy, skintight, red-white-and-blue undergarment with tasseled trim, by costume designer Linda Ross. This is a complete contrast to Casl’s performance (also quite good) as the terminally shy, retiring daughter in The Glass Menagerie a few years back.

The rest of the cast is also strong, including Megan Cook (as the daughter), who displays a luminous gaze as she describes her mind-expanding trip to a nearby carnival. Trish Adair (the repressed sister) bounces back and forth between stern control and moments of gleeful delight, depending on the situation. Jonathan Rhys Williams appears briefly as the rough-cut guy next door. You can almost smell the beer on his breath when he comes to complain about a note informing him that he shouldn’t fly the American flag after sundown—unless there’s a spotlight on it.