Story set in Appalachia has hard time getting anywhere

It takes Danny Goldring to liven up "25 Saints."

The veteran, deadpan Chicago actor, now past the traditional retirement age in other professions, plays a crooked Appalachian sheriff in playwright Joshua Rollins' half-baked play about a bunch of losers cooking up meth in West Virginia. He arrives in the middle of the action just long enough to offer a modicum of surprise that the expected arrival of the law has a different impact than one was anticipating. And then, in an exciting fight choreographed by Ryan Bourque, Goldring gets flung across the stage and does some flinging himself. It's a welcome jolt.

Up to that point, Rollins' new play is stronger on style and attitude that credible, trackable storytelling. We're very much in Tracy Letts-type territory here, with the action beginning with a dead body dragged on to the stage and then the various characters passing time in various states of desperation. And there are some very decent actors, including Caroline Neff and Molly Reynolds, both no-nonsense women, in director Susan E. Bowen's production. But you never quite believe what transpires, nor are the characters even remotely involving, whether when talking, cooking, killing or being shot.

Aside from a chronic lack of a sense of humor, the main issue, really, is a lack of narrative twist, which the neo-gothic genre badly needs to engage and sustain interest. I think Rollins actually wants this piece to be a portrait of an isolated part of Appalachia, where hardscrabble does not even begin to describe the lives. He has the help of a fine, immersive piece of set design from John Ross Wilson.

Although this is a writer with some talent, Rollins has just got too much of a pot boiling here to help us key into anything in the regular socio-economic landscape (a dead body at the start tends to have that effect), and yet not enough raw pulp for us to want to suck out more of the juice of the drama. It's a strangely uninvolving piece caught between different styles, really, and not quite computing on any level of reality. Beyond enjoying Goldring's theatrics and Reynolds' dry nastiness, it's hard to work up much of a sweat.


When: Through March 31

Where: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Tickets: $25 at 773-404-7336 and

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