Terror in June, Go Cougars! Theater Company, at Angel Island. Novelists seldom make good playwrights. Though it’s not impossible to make the transition, impending failure is enough to deter most fiction writers. Local novelist Joe Meno is either too naive or too reckless to care, but his efforts seem more the result of intellectual curiosity than of solipsistic hubris. And his skeletal, character-based prose and ability to perceive the drama of everyday interactions seem tailor-made for the stage.

But Meno’s lean second play, Terror in June, shows he’s unable to switch from the narrative structure of fiction to that of drama. This work, which Meno also directs, is full of false starts and dashed expectations, his characters spend too much time navel gazing, and his naturalistic dialogue–a clear strength in the similarly themed novel Tender as Hellfire–seems primarily a crutch here.

Still, if you’ve ever spent time in Smalltown, USA, you’ll appreciate Meno’s keen insight into the minds of average and not-so-average yokels. In his warped vision of Minnesota, everyone from a philosophizing grave digger to a promiscuous beauty queen has a secret past. James Vickery does fine work as a mentally challenged adolescent, but his performance is perhaps the only part of this production that breaks its narrow, unfocused monotony.

–Nick Green