It doesn't take long to figure out that the title of Johnna Adams' short (75-minute) play refers not just to the deadly reptiles that figure so prominently in the story line but also to the characters inhabiting the play's arid Texas landscape. A young woman named Kate has been beaten to death, leaving behind several people whose blood runs cold as they plot revenge. The woman's sister, Ernelle (Meghan Becker), gets her boyfriend, Snake (Tito Ortiz), to kidnap a preacher (Steven Lamprinos) whose every family member is able to resurrect the dead. Revive Kate, he's told, or face death by rattlesnake. The pair also threatens to kill the preacher's young daughter. Kate's mother, Mattie (Cynthia Ryanen), suspects that the town undertaker (Brian Fichtner) had a hand in Kate's death, so she plots to kill his younger brother, Shane (Kevin Johnston), as revenge, despite Shane's having pledged his undying love to her.
Adams has a talent for capturing the rhythms of everyday speech — halting, broken thoughts; half-finished sentences; and the constant circling around an idea without ever actually expressing it — and she gives director David Campos and his cast an airtight text from which to work. Campos has the most trouble pacing the scenes between Fichtner, who delivers an understated yet emotional performance, and Chad Aldrich as Kate's tense, anxious, chain-smoking, alcoholic husband. As Mattie, Ryanen gives poignant voice to Adams' rich, evocative dialogue, supported ably by Johnston in their two-scenes. With their deep Texas drawls, Ortiz and Becker provide their scenes — while Lamprinos is bound to a chair — with electric sparks of Tarantino-style violence. The many superb performances support a world premiere that's being shared with a simultaneous East Coast staging of the complete trilogy that includes Rattlers. The play stands on its own, even as it depicts humans who slither around as they hatch murder plots.
Presented by and at Stages Theatre, 400 E. Commonwealth, Fullerton. Nov. 8-30. Sat., 5:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. www.stagesoc.org.