“Specks,” an hour-long one-act written by Robert Shimko and directed by Hampshire junior Anna Frazier, played at Hampshire College’s Emily Dickinson Hall Feb. 1 through Feb. 4. A second round of shows begins this Thursday and runs through Feb. 10.
“Specks” shares a double billing with “Shifts of Focus,” another one-act written and directed by Hampshire junior Caroline Murphy.
Shimko’s play is a chilling, darkly comic exploration of complacency and pent-up frustration. The action takes place in Tom and Molly’s Diner. The young, pleasant-faced Molly (UMass junior Natasha Norman) runs the place; Tom, her husband, has been out of the picture for quite some time, his absence explained only by Molly’s rueful “Oh, it’s a long story.”
On the night of New Year’s Eve, her busy-body mother Berta (Hampshire junior Andrea Ferguson, in a hilariously over-the-top turn) and a grumpy regular named Jenner (Hampshire freshman Paul Bogosian) keep Molly company. Jenner has a long-standing crush on Molly but is too shy to ask her out; instead he bickers with Berta and compulsively balances plates and glasses in precarious towers.
Enter Paul (Kerns), a stranger who wanders in from a party across the street. He immediately sizes up the situation and takes charge. He flirts with Molly and Berta, antagonizes Jenner and tells a strange story of how one day he willfully closed his eyes while driving on the highway and almost died.
By play’s end, Paul has doled out redemption for each of the other characters; what’s disturbing about this is that his right to do so is never explained-nor is the possibility that he may be a murderous criminal. The play’s resolution, where Paul echoes Jenner’s dish-stacking by “putting everything in its right place,” is satisfying but creepy.
Kerns is the best thing about this production. Capitalizing on his disturbingly wholesome face and a smile that can shift from cherubic to demonic in a blink, Kerns gives Paul an almost supernatural, mythic quality.
He is talkative and friendly, and yet he reveals almost nothing about himself. As he says late in the play, “I could be just a figment of your imagination.” Perhaps Paul is just a figment; as played by Kerns, however, he lingers in the imagination long after the lights go up.