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Love triangles are a tricky thing — and even more so when all sides are within the same family. Trinity Repertory's latest production, "Sparrow Grass," measures the toll incest takes on a family.

The play revolves around the return home of a colonel (Richard Donelly) after a long military tour. The members of his family are home together for the first time in years, anticipating his return. 

The audience learns fairly quickly of a romance between the colonel's wife (Phyllis Kay) and his son from another marriage (Tyler Lansing Weaks). From here, the family is jettisoned into disarray.

"What we have tried to create is a Greek play for a contemporary American audience with contemporary themes," said Curt Columbus, the playwright.

Columbus serves as artistic director for Trinity Rep, but he gave this production's directing responsibilities to Brian McEleney, head of the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Acting Program.

Columbus explained that "Sparrow Grass" does not pretend to be a realistic portrayal of life but instead acknowledges that it is a performance. Characters address the audience during the performance — a theatrical approach that has its roots in ancient Greek drama.

"There's incest in the play," Columbus said, adding that the audience will only feel like passive observers and therefore allow themselves to watch the play, detached from the action because they are made aware that the drama is not real. 

"(The U.S.) is at an interesting place in our democracy/empire," Columbus said. "The similarities to classical Greece are really kind of remarkable and available to anyone who will look."

The play's dialogue contains several references to the story of Odysseus, in which a general returns home to find many men vying for his wife's heart.

The play is replete with lines that derive a haunting tone from the incestuous nature of the plot. "Touching your child is the most innocent, the most wonderful thing in the world," says the colonel's wife in an aside to the audience.

The shocking plot holds the audience's attention, but the script sometimes detracts from the gravity of the subject.  In a few cases, the dialogue seems heavy-handed, affording the cast numerous opportunities for overacting. But the all-around strong cast handled the script well, overcoming the majority of these moments and delivering a convincing and morally-wrenching performance Tuesday night.

The play has "a very unique and specific sense of humor to it," said Alex Krieger '12, who attended Tuesday's performance.

Comedic moments were found in many scenes, making the incestuous overtones seem all the more surreal.


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