Maybe it was the reality television show Jersey Shore or the arrival of hipsters in Williamsburg, but for now neither New Jersey nor Brooklyn can compete when it comes to signaling working-class authenticity on the American stage. If you want to come across as “real” these days, you bettah staht dropping your r’s because Boston is having a moment. In Alison Tatlock’s new play at UCSB, Untitled IV by Ruth Markofsky, the title role is played by Anne Torsiglieri, and she is Boston Proud all the way — even if she is also a contemporary artist living in Joshua Tree, the single mother of an adopted toddler, and sometimes shaky on her Red Sox trivia.
This highly enjoyable drama begins in Ruth’s mid-century modern home (the beautifully realized set is by Nayna Ramey) and ends outside in the desert, with Ruth sitting astride the giant spherical sculpture known as “Untitled IV.” Along for the ride are a terrific Victoria Finlayson as Lois, a free spirit from Ojai who is Ruth’s longtime friend and unpaid therapist. There’s also Monica (Skarlett Redd), a troubled teenager who has taken shelter with Ruth while she gets her life together, and Kenny (Zackery Alexander), the hot, young art critic (they have those?) who arrives to interview Ruth and ends up watching her near-breakdown and then offering her a hand in the bedroom. Add in wildcard Adina (Tonea Lolin), newly arrived from Ethiopia and looking for someone close to her, and JJ (Adrian Carter), who may or may not be there at all. It makes for quite a house party, especially considering that Ruth hasn’t finished “Untitled IV” and it’s due to be unveiled in the early light of dawn the following day.
Tatlock’s canny mix of satire, drama, and magical realism is a good match for director Risa Brainin, who gets some excellent performances out of this extremely able cast. Some subplots, like the one involving a drug deal gone slightly awry, don’t completely pay off, but overall the show offers a good way to dramatize and externalize the various pressures that Ruth carries around every day in her head. The chemistry between Finlayson, Torsiglieri, and Redd is exciting to watch, and the action never flags, even when old business becomes the emotional focus. The play was not officially finished when we got a glimpse, so this is officially not a review, but by all means, if you are interested in what a woman must go through in order to be both a mother and an artist, get out to the Hatlen and check out this show. It plays through March 8.