I always think of the Amoralists as these sort of indie theater bad boys: edgy, explosive work where someone’s probably getting naked. I was looking forward to Utility, their newest production, currently at Rattlestick. Not only are they back, but there’s a female playwright taking the lead instead of the usual Adam Rapp or Derek Ahonen.
Utility is a more sedate play. Amber (Vanessa Vache) works two jobs to provide for her three kids and to repair her deteriorating home as her estranged husband Chris (James Kautz) stays on his brother’s couch and tries to win Amber back. An unpaid electric bill, which was Chris’ responsibility, leads to a power outage the day of Amber’s daughter’s birthday and unresolved issues rise up the longer they sweat in the Texas heat.
Shwend’s play plants the beginnings of many issues that never seem to come to a head. The sweat and the darkness keep the pace slow and soft, with tensions never fully taut. Annie Baker-esque silences dot the show, but without the pressure of conflict, it’s hard to experience them as anything other than waiting for one of the characters to speak. The actors are charming and do their best to overcome the sleepiness of the script, especially Alex Grubbs as Jim, Chris’ brother. His monologue offers a glimpse of what could be, but it’s too late, both in his life and in this production.