Snakes I Have Known
nytheatre.com review by Amy Lee Pearsall
October 14, 2012
If you enjoy solo-performance, be certain to check out the third annual United Solo Theatre Festival. Running at Theatre Row on 42nd Street through November 18th, this year’s United Solo features 100 short theatrical productions from around the world, the majority of which will only run once. Take a chance, pick a day, and take in some of the rich and varied offerings this delightful festival has to offer.
In ranch country, about an hour’s flight outside of Dallas – some might even say deep in the heart of Texas – it’s not unusual to come face to face with a snake, be that creature real, imagined, or implied. It is here that we meet playwright and performer Molly Montgomery in her one-woman coming-of-age tale, Snakes I Have Known. Some snakes bite, some are edible, some hang out in gardens for long chats, and some just like to cause a stir, but one thing is for certain: They tend to keep things interesting.
Montgomery may come from rural stock, but don’t make the mistake of calling her a hillbilly. She’s the granddaughter of Texas royalty, and a couple of the familial characters portrayed here would probably never let you forget it. The ranch compound that she hints at in her narrative feels like a sprawling take on Edna Ferber’s dysfunctional, third-act Reata, and she accessorizes it onstage with a skin on the floor, a pair of wall-mounted horns, and the Texas state flag pinned across the upstage wall.
Speaking of acts, Montgomery’s 70-minute piece seems to have three: childhood, adolescence, and being thrust unceremoniously into adulthood. The first third is populated with a hunting tale that feels about ten minutes too long, mostly due to the unfortunate use of a clunky wooden chair to simulate driving around on an all terrain vehicle. I found myself wishing for something with wheels, just to get things rolling.
Montgomery’s second section finds her in a bikini top – again, for about ten minutes too long. While I appreciated the cheeky Texas flag motif of the top – and also the fact that she was not completely naked, as she was at the time of the incident she reenacts here – it felt gratuitous. I had a hard time believing that nobody would have the good sense to at some point give the poor girl a sweater.
The third part is the most solid of the piece, and it is really quite lovely. Montgomery gives herself the opportunity to explore her relationship with her outrageous grandmother. As directed by Jim Shankman, Montgomery’s characterizations sometimes tend to feel a little too large, even verging on stereotypical, but here, the edges have been beautifully sanded off.
The history of this work was not immediately apparent to me from the program, but I suspect it is a work in progress. As a former Texan myself, I would love to see where Montgomery takes this with some further workshopping and development. You have one more opportunity to catch Snakes I Have Known atUnited Solo: Check it out on Sunday, October 28th at 2:00 p.m.