Brewed is funny. Brewed is weird, and let me clarify that statement. In our present age of weirdness inflation, when bizarre is normal and surreal is the new real, this play being performed by No Name Players does not merely rank on the average. It’s in a league with the elite weird.
Above all, Brewed is a violent play about violence. The violence runs the gamut from verbal to physical to deadly, as expressed in various ways by the six sisters in the story. The women’s fiery tempers are attributed to a creed they learned from their mother— “Everyone prefers aggressive passion to passive aggression”— although in fact, even the passive-aggressive stuff is on display.
Some of the girls are so pickled in violence that they ooze it. “You can smell her anger. It smells like gasoline,” one sister says of another. And Nannette, the only sister with a job, burns gasoline for a living: she’s a NASCAR driver. The play opens with Nannette at a podium, testily defending her actions to an unseen crowd of reporters. She has just won a race by dodging (or perhaps causing?) a massive chain-reaction wreck.
Meanwhile the sister at the heart of the story, Babette, drives a wheelchair. Her lower legs were cut off when she stepped in a bear trap. (Tressa Glover plays the part in a dress, keeping her actual lower legs tucked under.) There are dark hints that the accident was karmic retribution for a dreadful deed Babette had done, one so nasty that it cannot be spoken of.
Moreover, there’s been a strange side effect. Babette is now subject to ferocious seizures that might be fatal. To keep her alive, everyone must stir the pot.
A Recipe for Bad Strawberries
The central prop in Brewed is a big stainless steel cooking pot on a stand. What it contains is undisclosed. But the sisters take turns stirring it continually, 24/7, because if anybody lets up for a moment, Babette will be zapped and start writhing.
Does this burden put an added strain on a family of quick-strike vipers? More than a little. When Babette herself is late for a shift at the pot, sister Paulette has to stir overtime, which inspires Paulette to deliver a stirring soliloquy upon the absent Babs:
“I will tear off her ears and wear them as earrings … I will kick out her fucking teeth, swallow them myself, then puke them back on her so that I can say, ‘Taste that! That’s the taste of the bile that backs up into my stomach because of you. The bile and the acid that burns my insides, shortens my life, and aggravates the two dozen hemorrhaging, quivering stress ulcers the size of strawberries that I have, because of you!’”
Later, once Paulette’s hands are free from stirring, she uses them to beat the tar out of yet another sister, Collette. It’s one of several fistfights that occur in Brewed. And curiously enough, the whole grisly spectacle seems to appeal to a wide demographic.
Demographics and Devices
On the night I went, the audience ranged from late-middle-aged matrons to young dudes in Millennial shirttails. They all looked hooked by the play. “Edge of the seat,” as one young man told me afterward. Laughter, too, rained down from all corners of the house.
I think a number of good things work together in Brewed. Despite the improbable setup, the play has the ring of truth; it hits home. Maybe most households aren’t as brutal as the one portrayed here but the tensions and verbal sniping, and the emotional tirades that go off the rails into self-parody, are the kinds that come up everywhere. They make you flinch while at the same time, you gotta laugh.
Also, the cast is good. A play can’t ring true unless the people do. These actresses create believable characters, not caricatures, and they’re working from a nice script. Playwright Scott T. Barsotti, a North Hills native now living in Chicago (where Brewed premiered two years ago), has gotten the story’s complex engines in sync. One of his smart choices is using a classic device to move the story along: the introduction of an outsider.
A New Squeeze, a Final Question
Early in the play sister Roxette—possessed, perhaps, by the Bad Idea Bears from Avenue Q—brings home her new lover to meet the family. The woman, Lee, is a warm-hearted peacemaker who walks in bearing gifts: “I love bourbon. Do you love bourbon?”
Having thus broken the ice, Lee dares to wade further and further into family affairs. This development serves a double purpose. It allows for natural exposition, as the newcomer and sisters learn about each other, and it cranks up the tension. Lee is going in too deep. You sense that something other than a peace pipe will soon be smoking and it’s just a matter of time until the lid blows off.
As for my own reaction to Brewed: I’m an intellectualizer. While caught up in the events of the play, I was intrigued by the paradox of the stir-pot. Nobody likes Babette very much, yet nobody’s willing to be the one who lets her die. So everybody keeps stirring, and the question I’d leave you with is this. What are they really keeping alive?
Closing Credits and Ticket Info
Scott T. Barsotti’s Brewed is directed for No Name Players by Steven Wilson. If you missed the caption under the lead photo, kindly read it: each of the women, along with Wilson, knows how to cook. Through July 11 at off the WALL Theater, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. For showtimes and tickets visit No Name or call 1-888-71-TICKETS.
Photo courtesy of No Name Players.
Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor, covers theater for Entertainment Central.