You have to hand it to Mike Bradwell. The ebullient artistic director of the Bush Theatre is celebrating his tenth anniversary with a slice of juvenile Americana that manages to be low-level naturalistic and strangely bizarre in equal measure.
To that extent, Crooked by Catherine Trieschmann - a native of Athens, Georgia, whose other plays use the American Civil War and the Great Fire of London as backdrops - is a typical Bush play: apparently conventional with a personal, quirky tone.
Laney Waters is a 14-year-old girl who's trying to be a writer by making sense of her absent father and her own awkward, adolescent relationship with her mother, Elise. She also has a twisted back, a form of dystonia that Amanda Hale uses in her beguiling performance to suggest poetic originality.
As the setting is Oxford, Mississippi, it's only to be expected that religion will rear its head, and it does so in the obese form of Maribel Purdy, a 16-year-old, born-again minister’s daughter who believes in the power of the Holy Ghost and kisses girls. In short, and in huge girth, she’s a holiness lesbian.
Things become sticky when sex and faith are confused in the living room, a suitably bland interior designed by Libby Watson, where Maribel has pangs of incipient stigmata and Laney tries to explain herself to Elise, played with pleasant equanimity and tolerance by Suzan Sylvester.
Finally, the friendship of the girls is sensitively balanced against Laney’s rapprochement with a mother – building a bridge over troubled waters? - who makes the play’s strongest statement of belief: “I think you’re going to traverse continents and discover elements, chart new moons, even win the freaking Nobel Prize for Literature if that’s what you want.”
Bradwell’s production spins out the power shifts in the trio with good rhythm and some finesse. But this is not one of these plays where you feel the earth move, or the landscape change. It is quiet, still, honestly felt, competently written.
Amanda Hale’s delicacy is matched with a smiling, infuriating confidence by Debbie Chazen as Maribel, the fat friend of Jesus who is over-devoted to his handmaidens and encourages her saintly blood flow by taking a corkscrew to the palms of her hands.