Set in 1979, the intriguing courtroom psycho-drama centers on high-class Manhattan call girl Claudia Draper (Libby Parker) and the battle to determine whether she’s sane enough to stand trial for manslaughter. In the meantime, she has been locked up in New York’s Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital.
Draper is 31 and has been divorced for a year.
She believes she’s perfectly sane and has retained attorney Aaron Levinsky (Justin Wessell) to convince Judge Murdock (Craig Brooke).
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Her mother, Rose Kirk (Janice Peters), and stepfather, Arthur Kirk (Randall C. Lyon), want the young woman declared insane. They’ve enlisted the services of attorney Franklin MacMillan (Rick Bruce) to argue for that decision.
Most of the action in “Nuts” involves the lawyers questioning and cross-examining the witnesses, starting with Bellevue psychiatrist Dr. Herbert Rosenthal (Don Dallmann), who had evaluated Claudia. His diagnosis that Claudia is a paranoid schizophrenic is based on pretty flimsy evidence.
Rose Kirk testifies that she and her husband of 25 years ensured her daughter had a good, loving home and was well provided for.
When stepdad Arthur takes the stand, he paints a picture of himself as an ideal father. But as the defense attorney aggressively continues to question him, it’s revealed that he had an inappropriate relationship with Claudia.
Claudia is also questioned. But because she remains calm and seldom speaks for most of the two-hour play, the audience can’t determine her mental state until that point. She’s well-groomed, physically fit and lovely.
Rounding out the cast is Tim Linzey as Officer Harry Haggerty and Joyce Calderone as the court recorder.
“Nuts” has interesting characters, is perfectly cast and quite well acted. But it’s ultimately unsatisfying, as the script leaves too many unanswered questions.
For instance, it’s never made clear how Rose could be blind to her husband’s behavior toward her daughter.
The reasons for Claudia’s deep-seated anger toward her parents, and the circumstances of the manslaughter case, can only be guessed at as well.
“Nuts” is for mature audiences only, since it deals with some taboo topics and graphic sexual descriptions.
Director Kelli Howard said she chose this play specifically because of its taboo topic matter, which is seldom addressed on stage, film or television.
The script “leaves a lot definitely not said,” Howard explained, creating a special challenge for Peters, who doesn’t know if her character is complicit, in denial, or truly unaware of what went on in the family home.
“Nuts” playwright Tom Topor, a former New York Post reporter whose beats included crime, knows his stuff when it comes to courtroom procedures. Hollywood liked his play well enough to turn it into a movie in 1987 starring Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss.
Howard, who saw the film many years ago, said it answers all the questions the play omits.
“The movie version covers everything,” she said.
Contact freelance writer Lee Sutter at email@example.com.
7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 7
$22, $17 students
Pewter Plough Playhouse, 824 Main St., Cambria
927-3877 or http://pewterploughplayhouse.org/