Mud is akin to a shot of backholler rockgut

by Catey Sullivan
Windy City Times

Mud is akin to a shot of backholler rockgut—it packs a walloping visceral punch thanks to a dangerous, grotesque purity.

Director Sean Graney unleashes his formidable powers of innovation to ferocious heights with Maria Irene Fornes’ mucked-up fairy tale. And as you gape at the drama’s ninth circle of Hell as a swamp-sunk trailer park, you find yourself wonderstruck at the roaring resilience and utterly paradoxical beauty of its inhabitants. Mae ( Halena Kays ) is a barely literate princess-in-disguise who slaves in a fever dream of caretaking for her swinish, anti-Prince Charming, Lloyd ( Geoff Button ) , a fellow who is caked with dirt on the outside and—thanks to nasty bacteria in the prostate—who is rotting on the inside. The suitor who could save Mae from a life wasted in brute tedium is Henry, ( Robert McLean ) , a potential savior who descends like a mutated deux ex machina into the squalid aquarium that Mae and Lloyd roil in.

And what a world scenic designer Courtney O’Neill has created in that aquarium. The set is a gigantic cube the audience peers into through Plexiglas walls like a pack of voyeurs, shuffling from view to view at will. Filth-crusted refrigerators stagnate in ankle-deep mud, rusted meat hooks dangle from the sky and battered pink flamingos totter near leafless, skeletal trees; it’s like Tobacco Road on crack. Viewing Henry, Lloyd and Mae as they go struggle their daily routines is like watching exotic, caged animals or bugs under glass. However, Mae, Henry and Lloyd aren’t exotic animals—they’re rough and wild reflections of all of those who would spy and hold themselves at a safe distance from their trashtastic machinations.

Kays’ luminescent Mae is the center that cannot hold. “Work” is her mantra as she puts her shoulder to an impossibly heavy wheel with a muscular optimism that defies logic. You can see that optimism shine like rubies through sludge as Kays’ Mae steams her way through piles of sopping clothes. You can hear it as she doggedly, laboriously reads from a book on ocean life.

Lloyd stands in contrast, a man so frightened of what might be outside his small, putrefying universe that he won’t go to a doctor’s appointment without an axe and carries a brick with him everywhere like a security blanket. Somewhere between the two is Henry, the interloper who threatens Lloyd and infuses Mae with hope.

Mud is fierce, brutish and—at 70 scathing minutes—short. Like the best parables, its impact lasts far longer than its telling.