Exhibit A: Claudia, a wonky young woman accused of prostitution and manslaughter, suspected of paranoid schizophrenia. Exhibit B: Arthur Kirk, Claudia's stepfather, who wears a bolo tie and talks with a thick New York accent.
But can't we guess the rest? Could we, average folks, write this story blindfolded? The moment Arthur swaggers into the courtroom, you know the ugly role he played in Claudia's life, because you've seen this drama a trillion times. It doesn't matter that the play is called Nuts, that it was written in 1979 by journalist Tom Torpor, and that the story is "based on true events." Turn on any American TV at 2 p.m. You'll find five versions of the same plot before you even hit cable.
Apple Hill Playhouse presents a clever version of Nuts, staged in a real courtroom inside the Westmoreland County Courthouse. The play unfolds in real time, and the actors occupy real judicial space: The "judge" perches at an actual bench, the "witnesses" take the actual stand and the audience fills the rest of the chamber. To even enter the building, patrons must pass through an authentic metal detector. If nothing else, the play is a great excuse to see the structure's elaborate interior and breathtaking dome.
Otherwise, Nuts is an empty shell. The actors struggle with lines, the blocking is nonsensical and unless you sit in the front rows, not a testimony can be heard. Nuts is a dogmatic play, and Torpor's anti-establishment agenda is blatant from Act I. Two acts later, Nuts feels like regular jury duty. We couldn't care less about Claudia's "madness" and her stepfather's "bath time" rituals, and the melodrama swells with every absurd monologue. Apple Hill has taken an admirable stab at gritty realism, but sometimes gritty realism looks nothing like reality.
The standout is Dennis "Chip" Kerr, who plays Dr. Rosenthal, a psychiatrist. Kerr is a seasoned actor, and he actually works for Western Psych. On paper, Dr. Rosenthal is supposed to be an evil shrink with a needle. But Kerr's superior acting makes him look human and heroic. Given the evidence, could I declare a mistrial?
NUTS plays through Sun., Nov. 13. Apple Hill Playhouse at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, 2 N. Main St., Greensburg. 724-468-5050