Wet Appetite, First Breath Productions, at Live Bait Theater. S.E. Karsnick’s lyrical play brims with sharp observations about female self-image, jealousy, the maternal instinct, and the comfort found in food, but overall this is a vexing production. Karsnick gives a deep performance as Annie, a woman living alone on her farm surrounded by the canned goods she’s passionate about. Though the lights are too low to see her when the show begins, we can hear in Karsnick’s voice the character’s unhappiness and mental imbalance. Once she’s visible, Annie’s cautious movements and odd mannerisms are strangely compelling. Then Tishy, a sullen teen, arrives delivering groceries. Eventually the connection between the women makes sense, but it takes 70 minutes and a lot of patience to understand it.
As directed by Karsnick, Wet Appetite is erratic. The two characters lack any motivation for abruptly sharing their stories, and as played by Becki Kollenberg, Tishy is inconsistent, alternately a frightened animal and a drama queen. While many of her monologues would work at a poetry slam, here Tishy’s shrill, unprompted speeches are jarring. Another drawback is the lighting, which masks the opening action for too long and then varies unaccountably throughout the show. Rightly billed as a performance piece rather than a play, this often deliberately obscure show is absorbing only insofar as we work to discern what’s going on and why.