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TEMPORARY HELP /Womens Project Theater

 



Here's the set-up: Karl Streber (Robert Cuccioli), borderline psychopath, runs a farm in Nebraska with his co-dependent spouse, Faye (Margaret Colin). When we meet him, Karl is stowing a freshly-killed body under the sink and Faye is keeping Sheriff Ron Stucker (William Prael) busy in the living
room until he's finished. Ron wants to ask Karl about a man who used to work at the Streber farm who has since disappeared—some not too subtle foreshadowing.

In the next scene, Karl shows up at the house with the strapping (and improbably named) young man Vincent Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Chad Allen), who at first appears to be a tailor-made next victim for whatever shenanigans the Strebers are involved with, but quite soon proves his mettle as match-and-then-some for this weird couple. Playwright David Wiltse provides an intricate plot in which everybody has reason to be worried about what everybody else is doing; it's rife with psycho-sexual (sometimes homoerotic) game-playing and filled with herrings—some of them red, some not—that include abusive parents, suspicious deaths, guns, explosives, insurance policies, and other incendiary things. It feels written (as opposed to organic) almost all the time, and the ending doesn't feel entirely earned. That said, Temporary Help is spectacularly watchable, and not in a traffic-accident way:

This is a well-crafted thriller that grips us and keeps us on the edge of our seats. If the big moments elicit titters rather than gasps, well, that's disappointing; but this is certainly a plausible entertainment, and that for all of the plot's implausibilities. The cast is fine, especially Cuccioli, who is obviously having a ball playing this lunatic—without ever going over the top, he creates a genuine menace (the little bit of butt cleavage that he flashes us in his opening scene, bending over in jeans that are too low and too tight, telegraph much about the performance). Colin similarly has a field day as the wife who may or may not be in this thing up to her eyeballs, though her playing feels a bit mannered in the second act. Allen, buff and youthful and manic, makes Vincent the play's revving engine. Prael acquits
himself nicely in the least showy role as the Sheriff.
(reviewed on November 15, 2002)

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