Remaining Performances:

Friday, July 27th, 11: p.m.

Saturday, July 28th, 8:30 p.m.

They say: “Ruled by a sadistic Queen Mother, this backwoods family knows little except violence and abuse. But despite the crushing brutality of monthly tournaments, there is room for loyalty and love to grow.”

Catherine’s Take: Eww! And I mean that in the best way.

Grain of Sand Theatre bills Raising Cane as a fight play, and as a fight play it’s an unqualified success. There’s more fighting than dialogue on the Redrum stage. The fight choreography is disgustingly graphic and exciting. If you came for violence, you’ll love this show.

If, on the other hand, you like a little psychological insight into what drives characters to impale each other with farm implements, you might find Stephen Cedar‘s script a trifle sketchy. A verse prologue sets the scene: Brothers fleeing the brutality of the Civil War hide deep in the Kentucky mountains, their offspring have no one to mate with except each other, and in a generation or so, they’ve produced an inbred clan that makes Deliverance look like Downton Abbey.

A guy sitting near me commented that the playwright might be indulging in regional stereotypes, so I looked up a little history. Extreme violence — eye gouging, the cutting off of ears, even castration — really was regarded as sport in West Virginia and Kentucky. Crowds gathered to watch young men (and occasionally women) maim each other. This public, ritual fighting determined dominance within a backwoods community. If the loser didn’t die in the struggle, he was often ejected from the tribe, with no choice but to live alone in the woods. In the mountains, the leader is the elder who is “the strongest, toughest and most cunning.” I guess that’s why Missus, the mother and grandmother of the other characters, rules them with an iron skillet.

Missus also sleeps with her most favored sons and grandsons. These men alternate between competing for the old woman’s favor and wanting to escape from her down-home hell. The tensions that arise from Missus trying to turn son against father, and brother against brother give Grain of Sand’s actors some juicy opportunities, and they make the most of them.

The actors are better than the material. Cedar’s plot is a mere outline and his characters under-developed, but Carl Brandt Long and Matthew Ward bring tenderness and a fully developed relationship to the twisted father and simpleton son. I wasn’t sure of who all the characters were until the end, but there’s a reveal that gives John Stange a heartbreaking moment of reconciliation with a loved one whom Missus has cruelly kept away. Thomas Beheler excites both pity and terror as a feral child; Beheler’s riveting physical performance stands out, even in this highly physical show. With the exception of Sara Bickler‘s terrific, appalling Missus, the women aren’t as central to the story as the men, and consequently have less showy roles. Shaina Higgins does get some nice moments, when the script allows her character to do more than worry or fight off assaults.

The actors give all of their considerable skills to Raising Cane; it’s a pity the playwright couldn’t have been as generous.

See it if: Cage fights turn you on.

Skip it if: Violence and incest creep you out.