Two women sit on a couch underneath a blanket. The woman on the left is Black, with her hair in braids. The woman on the right is white, with short blond hair.
Krystel McNeil and Rae Gray in Spay at Rivendell Theatre Credit: Michael Brosilow

Williamson, West Virginia, is in the heart of Hatfield-McCoy history, but the conflict driving apart a family in Madison Fiedler’s Spay, now in a world premiere at Rivendell under Georgette Verdin’s direction, is rooted in opioids, not moonshine. Kindergarten teacher Harper (Krystel McNeil) has just brought home her half-sister Noah (Rae Gray) from the hospital, where she nearly died after OD’ing at a school baseball game. Harper is also the guardian of Noah’s son, and if Noah ever wants to spend time with her kid again, she’s going to have to clean up her act. Not easy when boyfriend Jackson (Spencer Huffman) is also her dealer (but he promises he gets her the “clean” stuff). And when your town is nicknamed “Pilliamson.”

Through 5/1: Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM; also Wed 4/6 and 4/13, 8 PM and Sun 4/17 and 5/1, 3 PM; Sat 4/9 and 4/16, 4 PM only, Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Clark, 773-334-7728,, $35 ($15 students, educators, military, industry; $25 seniors and neighbors). Postshow town halls 4/9 and 4/16 (Narcan training provided at 4/9 event), 4 PM.

Enter Aubrey (Tara Mallen), a stranger from “Project Protection” who promises “resources” to help the family. But as the title suggests, that help comes with a very large condition about Noah’s future fertility. 

Staged on a comfortably cluttered and intimate set designed by Lindsay Mummert, Fiedler’s play largely succeeds at creating a framework for two women’s domestic conflicts arising from a larger national and generational problem (their mother became addicted and OD’d after a car accident) that nobody seems to know how to address successfully. This makes it a little easier to believe that Mallen’s Aubrey and her offer could find a toehold in Harper’s house. Fiedler’s script and Verdin’s cast avoid invoking Hillbilly Elegy stereotypes. And though the conclusion feels abrupt and not wholly earned, the pain and struggle of both sisters comes through with sharp poignancy in this well-acted production.