Late in "Yellow Moon," a desperate teenage boy -- played with feverish authenticity by Josh Salt -- contemplates a terrible act.
Unfolding as the Writers' Theatre production does -- without props, on a bare-bones set at the back of a Glencoe bookstore -- the cringe-inducing scene testifies to the prowess of director Stuart Carden's fine cast.
"Yellow Moon"★ ★ ★
Location: Writers' Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, (847) 242-6000 or writerstheatre.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday through Aug. 4. Also 2 p.m. May 22 and 29, June 5, July 3 and 24; No 6 p.m. show May 26, June 2, 9 and 28
Running time: About 75 minutes with no intermission
Parking: Street parking adjacent to the theater
Rating: For adults; includes strong language, sexual content, violence
David Greig's visceral, propulsive drama is a breakneck combination coming-of-age, lovers-on-the-lam tale. About a pair of disaffected young people desperate to feel something, "Yellow Moon" reveals the Scottish playwright's talent for storytelling and for language. In this case, the language is a vivid, aggressive prose-poetry hybrid well-suited to the telling of this contemporary folk tale, which the actors share with the audience as if they were conversing over a pint at the corner pub -- easy to do in this space where the actors are never more than a few feet away from the audience.
The action unfolds in Scotland where the troubled Lee (a restless, coiled Salt) lives with his depressed, alcoholic mom Jenni (Karen Janes Woditsch). Her boxer boyfriend Billy (John Lister) tries and fails to take an interest in the boy, who may soon be his stepson.
One fateful Friday, Lee encounters the solitary Leila (the soulful, enigmatic Ashleigh LaThrop) -- a good Muslim girl with a disturbing secret -- perusing celebrity magazines at a local drugstore.
Mustering all his adolescent swagger, Lee invites Leila to go drinking with him. Informing her of his preposterous plan to become a pimp, he proposes she come work for him. Before she can respond, Billy shows up. He accuses Lee of stealing from him and the two begin a scuffle that ends with Billy's death.
The couple then flees to the Scottish Highlands where Lee hopes to find the long-lost father who abandoned him and Jenni years earlier. Instead, they encounter Frank (a nicely ambiguous turn by Lister), a gruff taskmaster who knows more than he lets on. Frank is caretaker of a lakeside estate rented by Holly, a reality TV star with secrets of her own, played by the most agreeable Woditsch who seems to be channeling British comedian Catherine Tate.
A sense of urgency underscores Carden's briskly directed, passionately acted production notable for the performances of Writers' newcomers Salt and LaThrop. Salt nicely balances braggadocio and fear as the combative, combustive Lee, while LaThrop is simply ideal as "silent Leila," the girl who pays a staggering price in her quest to experience something real.
That said, "Yellow Moon" has a few flaws, most centered on the confused ending, which doesn't feel credible. Yet the emotion expressed by this cast and their flair for telling tales makes this a show worth seeing.