By GWEN OREL
Tongues get tied in the face of death. People go silent when dealing with injury.
In the face of death and injury, it’s hard for a girl to grow up into a sexual being.
Such is the dilemma for Ellen (Brittany Anikka Liu) in Andrew Rosendorf’s play “Tranquil,” making its world premiere at Luna Stage in West Orange.
[Note: This reviewer saw the play in a preview performance.]
Ellen’s life is complicated by the sudden return of her brother Aaron (Tony Knotts), who is responsible for the car crash that killed their mother and paralyzed Ellen. Aaron has come for their grandfather’s funeral. Rick (Frank Licato), their dad, hasn’t forgiven Aaron for running away.
And Ellen wants to know what sex feels like, which is where her co-worker at Walmart, Paul (Brendan McGrady), comes in.
Even before the play begins, Christopher and Justin Swader’s elegant, off-kilter set design, showing three sad rooms in a suburban home that are oddly angled, puts the audience in a world that’s unbalanced.
Electric and pop music also puts you in the world. Andy Evan Cohen’s sound design demonstrates Ellen’s mix of optimism and despair. When brother Aaron socks their uncle at the funeral, she says “but at least we have a story. It’s always good to have a story.”
Ellen’s preoccupations feel a little forced for chirpy humor — it’s hard to believe any teenage girl, even a practical and at-her-wit’s-end one like Ellen would be so blithely pornographic. But much of the play feels all too true.
Rosendorf reveals the backstory deftly. There’s a lot at stake, but it’s not a story with a big mystery — other than the mystery of memory.
The past is a balm and an open wound, too.
As a grieving, angry father, Licato’s quiet concern is more upsetting than bluster.
Liu’s peppy charm keeps her character interesting. Cheryl Katz sensitively directs this family drama that deals with such sensitive issues.
As Aaron, Knotts snaps like a taut string in his frustration and desire to connect. When he says he came home for Mother’s funeral — then remembers that’s not the right funeral — the shock and fear on his face, as he chokes up, is hard to forget.
By Andrew Rosendorf
Through May 13
Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange