Actors capture Austin writer's taut play

By Michael Barnes
Sunday, September 7, 2003

All the characters in "Perdita" have lost someone. Bedridden, cranky Goldie lost her life partner, although it's not clear how that happened until the final scenes. Quiet, religious Stee and Luce lost their daughter to a kidnapper years ago. Caregiver Marnie lost two sets of parents and now has lost her freedom.

That's because, in Austin playwright Monika Bustamante's tightly bound drama, Stee and Luce are holding Marnie captive in their basement, believing that she is their long-ago vanished daughter.

It's a little creepy and, in other hands, the action might have sheered into melodrama. Bustamante, one of the city's most gifted young authors, has other plans for her characters that involve storytelling in reverse and an anxious undertone that dampens any hope of a happy ending.

This is not material one associates immediately with Ken Webster, who directed the premiere of "Perdita" at Hyde Park Theatre. Yet he allowed the language room to settle and the actors space to build the inner realities of Goldie (Lana Dieterich), Stee (David Jones), Luce (Cyndi Williams) and Marnie (Jenni Rall). It's slow sledding at times, but the pace during Thursday's opening performance gave the audience a chance to soak up the mood, precisely calibrated with the aid of designers Paul Davis, Brad Carlin, Leroy Sakowitz and Robert Fisher.

Dieterich, Jones and Williams are Austin theater veterans in high standing, but they did not fall back on established acting devices to flesh out these strangely possessed creatures. Rall, on the other hand, is a revelation. In previous Austin roles, she proved sensitive and expressive. In "Perdita," Rall outdid herself. With absolute credibility, she switched modes from a chirpy, competent caregiver to a frightened, woozy prisoner going through diabetes-induced seizures. This is an artist to track.