It might be easy to dismiss Rebecca Gilman's true-crime drama as the stuff of TV movies — especially for someone like me, who prefers unconventional theatricality to straightforward dramatic offerings. But although it's based in part on a real-life Alabama crime spree, Gilman's dark, unrelenting tale of people behaving really, really badly manages to become something much more and finds its originality as a disturbing yet beautifully drawn character study. At its heart is Lisa (Rachel Style), whom we meet when she is 15, watching TV on the other side of the curtain as her prostitute mother (Saige Spinney) very enthusiastically entertains a gentleman caller (Kelly Van Kirk). "She's a screamer," Lisa matter-of-factly explains to the john's pretty-boy pal, Clint (Martin Papazian). Clint has politely declined the offer of a threesome, preferring to sit beside the awkward young girl on the couch during the encounter. It doesn't take long to figure out that the smooth-talking Clint has rough edges — he almost immediately makes a move on Lisa — but when we next see the couple, two years later, we get the whole picture: He is a pathological, sexually violent criminal who has his now-wife completely under his control. Even when the story transitions from seedy hotel rooms to a predictably black-and-white Southern courtroom, the playwright unveils horrible, heartbreaking truths that are played out brilliantly, in every shade of gray, by Style. While the charismatic Papazian initially drives this hard-hitting work, it's ultimately Style who inhabits it, in a most remarkable way. Indeed, director Carri Sullens elicits spot-on yet shaded performances from each actor, whether it's the delightful Spinney; Van Kirk, strong and versatile; or James Messenger in multiple roles; Melanie Wilson, D. Taylor Loeb, and the fascinating Iris Gilad as the girls who were in the wrong place at the wrong time; a solid Pete Gardner as Lisa's lawyer; or Evan Silverman, who delivers a brief tour de force as he tells another side of the story. And credit to Sullens for putting together a seamless design team and energizing the action from start to finish (aided by Scott "Rex" Hobart's cinematic original music) but leaving us with the kind of visceral, lasting images you go to the theatre for.
Presented by and at the Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. Nov. 2-Dec. 16. (818) 841-5421. www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org.