The Billings Outpost

Warning: Tears ahead

By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

My wife had just one complaint about Venture Theatre’s production of “And I Know …” on Sunday afternoon – no Kleenex.

Turnout was small – only a couple of dozen people for the matinee performance – but she wasn’t the only viewer left in tears by the end of the Project Homelessness show.

The play is set in a somewhat fictionalized homeless shelter in Billings, and viewers get a long and unpleasant look at the poor decisions, unfortunate circumstances and plain bad luck that can leave people without a home. Ryan M. Gage and Shad Scott wrote the script from interviews conducted by Jessie Obee and Amy Dixon, who have been here since July working on Project Homelessness as AmeriCorps VISTA members.

Both hung around to talk to viewers after the play, and Ms. Obee, who is from Wisconsin, said that much of the dialog came directly from the transcripts of the interviews they conducted. But one of the situations was somewhat fictionalized, one character was a composite, and the character of the chaplain was based on a real person, but not anyone in Billings.

For all of the tugging the play does at the heart strings, it isn’t exactly dripping with dramatic tension. Characters come and go, tell their heart breaking stories and then move on from the shelter to the rest of their lives – or not. Sort of like real life.

A trio of sisters is caught between parents who don’t quite want them and a grandmother they don’t quite want. A woman finds the job market tough to crack because she decided, at some foolish point in her life to get a tattoo on her face. A man tells about the time he set his girlfriend, now his wife, on fire in a drunken prank in which they were both fully complicit. Another man describes living in a freezer outside because his parents didn’t want him in the house.

Tales of misery, abuse and confusion fill the stage for a couple of hours, with occasional relief provided by two children (Tanner Stichman and Elizabeth “Izzy” Kay) who slowly carve out a friendship in the shelter and who nearly steal the show with their comic sensibilities.

All turn toward the chaplain (Vanessa Dent) for spiritual relief. She is almost too good to be true: faithful but not preachy, sympathetic but not soft, kind but no pushover. She is the center around which life in the shelter revolves.

Other characters have their doubts about what they are doing on this planet. “What kind of God will let a man rape children?” one asks. The play provides no clear answers. But it may force you to shed a tear or two.

“And I Know …” plays through May 12 at Venture Theatre.

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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