True Crimes, Boxer Rebellion Theater. Playwright Romulus Linney packs a host of sins into this short amorality play, set in the Appalachian Mountains during the Depression. Illustrating the biblical message that evil begets evil, greed and lust give way here to thieving, incest, and murder as ambitious parents urge their son to court the unhappily married wife of a wealthy landowner. The husband ends up dead, but the lascivious, mercenary, and destructive acts don’t stop there.

Boxer Rebellion’s harsh presentation of human susceptibility to temptation is convincing, even shocking. But because the play’s dark themes are self-evident, director Michael S. Pieper’s overtly theatrical staging becomes annoying. His tableaux and Justin Stone’s red lighting, for example, are heavy-handed. Instead the actors should give their characters greater depth. They do step up when someone’s evil act or battle with conscience is the focus–for instance, Janet T. Cummins is moving when her character tearfully cradles a dying man, and Garrett Prejean convincingly conveys his character’s confused guilt. But these impressions last just moments.

Only Angela Bullard as the feisty mother whose plotting drives the play consistently stands out. Persuasive and driven, Bullard sings the mother’s melancholy lament about the hell awaiting her so well that she gives us a raw insight into the story’s emotional aftermath–the remorse these characters will feel after their downward spiral of bad deeds.