Chagrin Falls, Stage Left Theatre. Publicized as a “death penalty drama,” Mia McCullough’s new play is much too wise and sensitive to be pigeonholed as just another didactic argument for or against capital punishment. Instead this is a fascinating, detailed portrait of an Oklahoma town that has come to depend on the execution business; only the local slaughterhouse employs more people than the local prison.
The main story line is simple: student journalist comes to town to write about upcoming execution. But it proves a strong thread for this remarkably charming slice of life. McCullough has a gift for creating cliche-busting characters; one of the guards, for instance, is a bookish type who works at the prison because he can’t afford college. And in general she knows what to reveal about her characters when, though the script is marred by a far-fetched conclusion that attempts to tie up too many loose ends.
Director Kevin Heckman matches McCullough’s strengths by filling his staging with capable, sensitive actors who know how to bring out the deeper tones in the Chagrin Falls citizenry. Not everyone is as strong as Don Tieri and Morgan McCabe, however; Jennifer Willison, for example, doesn’t quite have the chops to play the journalism student in over her head. But there are enough great actors to carry the day.