The college boy who falls into complicated love in the play “Love, Lies and Taxidermy” asks, at one point, why everything has to be so difficult. I’d been asking that myself.
Why, for instance, does Joseph Teti, portraying the boy, awkwardly hitch his shoulders up toward his earlobes most of the time? Why does the sound design of this show fail so badly that we often can’t hear it? Why does the tinkly piano music in its opening scene annoyingly drown out the first many lines, assuring that we won’t get used to the actors’ Welsh accents too easily?
The play by Welsh writer Alan Harris is told, like many British and Irish plays Inis Nua Theatre Company presents, in storybook style: The actors recite not just their dialogue but also the narrative, so that they’re both playing their parts and describing the action aloud. The cadence for these tales is almost always breathless, with little crises erupting and leading immediately to bigger ones, which lead to bigger ones than that. Some people enjoy this style of theatrical storytelling — maybe it quickens their pulses. For me, it can rapidly become stultifying.
Harris’ play is set in a small Welsh town where Valentyn, the college boy, is falling fast for another student, Ashley (Francesca Piccioni, who, like all three actors, takes several parts). The boy’s dad (the solid Seth Reichgott) is a demanding taxidermist from Poland, trying to fit into the everyday Welsh culture and to keep his sad marriage to a Welsh woman going. The girl’s dad is the local ice-cream stand owner, deeply in debt in a dull-weather town where no one buys ice cream.
Valentyn desperately wants his parents to stay together, and Ashley plans to earn money for her dad by secretly appearing in soft porn that’s being shot locally. In this little town, nothing is a secret for long, and that includes an affair involving Valentyn’s mom.
Harris’ fanciful story has the elements of fantasy but a thoroughly earthbound tone. It offers some good moments — in its rush from one bit of narrative to another, the drama comes in flashes that can be powerful. The play’s unlikely big-deal of an ending, though, takes it out of focus.
“Love, Lies and Taxidermy” is partly an ode to the technique in taxidermy, which figures nicely in the play’s dialogue. (Different stuffed animals adorning the theater are from Avista Custom Theatrical Services. They look outstanding in Amanda Jensen’s lighting.) The play also clumsily attempts to say something about the importance of movies — when Valentyn considers his own situation, the plots of different movies pop into his thoughts. These little throwaway references in the script take on a befuddling importance at the play’s ending.
Whatever the play’s focus or lack of it, the Inis Nua production adds nothing to help us understand it further. Tom Reing, the artistic director, stages “Love, Lies and Taxidermy” in the round. The sound design fails to accommodate his staging in the Louis Bluver Theatre, whose ceiling is high with no apparent soundproofing. When heavily accented characters speak softly to each other and face the audience opposite you, the staging falls apart. You may as well be trying to hear them all the way from Wales.
“Love, Lies and Taxidermy,” produced by Inis Nua Theatre Company, runs through March 4 at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, to the side of the Drake Apartments on Spruce Street between 15th and 16th Streets. 215-454-9776 or inisnuatheatre.org.