Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Punch-drunk love


Lance Fuller and Kat Kneisel are among the partygoers who have an unexpected adventure in Nymph O' Mania at StageWerx. Photo: Bill Boice
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The unaware character who accidentally ingests   an intoxicant – misdirected marijuana brownies are a sitcom staple – can be a gimmicky way to garner easy laughs. And there are easy laughs in Morgan Ludlow's Nymph O' Mania, which involves a punchbowl spiked with puree of psilocybin mushrooms. Characters get comically lost in their own backyard and start ripping off pieces of each other's clothes, and their hallucinations turn a party crasher into various real and mythic beings.

But interwoven into the shroom shenanigans, Ludlow gives his characters the chance to use their altered states to recall, and deal with, suppressed memories, and to confront contemporary conflicts that have been simmering beneath the surface. Surprisingly enough, the confessionals don't become heavy-handed interlopers in the lighthearted capering, and in the end, the fantastic dovetails into the realistic with plausibility only slightly twisted in David Stein's lively direction for Wily West Productions.

The setting is the family home of Harriet (Kat Kneisel) nestled in the midst of old-growth redwoods in Northern California, soon to be the site of her wedding to the entrepreneurial Jack (Ben Ortega). His plan to sell off the home to big-business loggers is stressing the couple's pre-nuptial bliss, but their arguments must be put aside as guests start to arrive. There's Jack's goofy younger brother Stanley (Lance Fuller), and a married couple (Andrew Calabrese and Linda-Ruth Cardoza) in which dom-sub roles are reversed from their expected order. A few swigs of Stanley's enchanted punch turn the bickering partygoers into deranged foresters for finding new sexual permutations in their numbers, including what might be a tree nymph (Linda Wang, outfitted in several of Elise Barley's evocative costumes).

Nymph O' Mania claims connections to A Midsummer Night's Dream, and while parallels do occasionally sprout, they’re gossamer at best. This is its own story, and while Luldow is not above using obvious punchlines to grab a laugh, much of the humor is more nuanced than that. The various characters' epiphanies, which can go to some awfully dark places, are compellingly written and performed.

But the play is intended mainly as a lark, albeit a lark with a pie-eye, and the result is a happy diversion for a midsummer's night.


Nymph O' Mania will run at StageWerx through April 14. Tickets are $24. Tickets are available at

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