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D.C. playwright Liz Maestri’s equal parts pulpy and possibly supernatural comic thriller Owl Moon may be a mess, but at least—aspiring dramatists take note!—stuff happens in it, and it engenders within you a concern and a curiosity for the fate of its variously damaged and damaging characters. Salome and Shell are two…friends? Lovers? Ladies, at any rate, who’ve come to The Woods to get rid of a body, as you do. But no one who goes on walkabout to dump a corpse ever finds solitude in the wilderness—the couple they encounter, Lisa and Isaac, is another violently mismatched pair whose relationship is sketched in only the faintest of pencil strokes.
These particular woods have an agreeably artificial look, which, combined with the cabin interior that forms the other half of Jessica Moretti and Daniel Flint’s set, gives us a sense of having been dropped into a contemporary fairy tale as violent and morbid as those compiled by the Brothers Grimm. (Pricing every ticket at $10, Taffety Punk Theatre Company regularly thinks of ways to make its limited means an aesthetic plus.) Esther Williamson exudes volatility and vulnerability as Shell, a woman whose Christian devotion has been perverted to homicidal ends, while Kimberly Gilbert is great fun as her cooler, but no less dangerous conspirator.
But the title role, more or less, is where it’s at: A kindly spirit-owl puppet built by Don Becker and performed by Marcus Kyd tends to fly away with every scene he’s in, not least because you never know how he’ll treat the spiritual wounds of these sand-blasted souls: His words of consolation run from stoic and elemental (“You are loved and protected!”) to divorced guidance counselor-y (“You’re gonna be just fine”). And when the story, via Gilbert’s character, does briefly veer into direct address, it’s one of the funniest moments of the evening, one that like the best crime and suspense stories makes conspirators of us all.