Vibrant, hilarious and tender, Hannah Kenah’s “Three Shitty Sons” is an homage to Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” — a contemporary theatrical valentine sent to one of the greatest American plays of the 20th-century.
A company member of Austin-based theater collective Rude Mechs, Kenah is a Michener Fellow in playwriting at the University of Texas and “Three Shitty Sons” is receiving its debut as part of the UT New Theatre showcase. And yes — there is something both fitting and endearing that a new play that is an homage to one so legendarily performed in high schools and universities (“Our Town” has a large cast) is presented by an academic theatre program.
A deft theatrical deviser Kenah replaces the moody simplicity of Grover’s Corner, Wilder’s imaginary small town, with Hebron, another imaginary small town but one that is far more antic and where “no one is looking out for anyone.” See, in Hebron, people can be a little shitty sometimes, like the trio of none-too-bright adult sons who would really like to kill their shut-in mother whose illness, anyway, is likely not so much somatic as it is emotional.
There’s also a high-strung narrator who gives us all the backstory, a couple of dead family members that wander in and out of the action, strings of Christmas lights, a wedding, a ratty reclining chair, and a celebratory family meal with a flurry of food.
Exuberantly performed by UT theater students (Amaya Ananda Abalos displays an impressive range as Mamu, the mother) Kenah’s absurd, engaging little comedy of family dysfunction arrives in a similar place as Wilder’s epic. Community and family matter — even if other people are kinda shitty sometimes.
“Three Shitty Sons” continues through March 31 at UT New Theatre.