Faust's pact with Satan gave him youth and magical powers at a steep price. Brooks has substituted this fool with a high school senior, Sarah (Alicia Atkins), whose pie-eyed dreams of domesticity are straight from McCall's magazine, circa 1958. She's in love with and has had sex with Sean (Andrew Johnson), a doctor's preppie son. When he's ready to break up with her, primarily because of his father's classist view of Sarah, her friends Julie (Angela Wildflower Polk) and Tommy (Brian Hunter) think she needs to accept it and move on. Owen (Richard Stubblefield), who's had a crush on Sarah from afar, sees his opportunity to move in for the clinch.
But Sarah hatches a scheme that she thinks will bring Sean to the altar. She'll trick Owen into impregnating her, then tell Sean that the baby is his. Fortunately, the Coterie doesn't shy away from the issues. The tale incorporates talk of unprotected sex and a scene in an abortion clinic that makes Sarah even more determined to carry out her plot.
Yet there's a one-sided villainy to Sarah's personality that the author should consider tempering. Sarah is bereft of a conscience -- the chief symptom for every sociopath -- and is as manipulative as a television reporter covering a bloody tragedy. Her philosophy is a devious appropriation of President Kennedy's famous line: Ask not what you can do for yourself but what you can do for me. In street language, she's one crazy bitch, and she's entirely unsympathetic. (Following Atkins' performance as an equally manipulative woman in last fall's The Shape of Things, she should consider something sweeter to avoid being typecast.)
Directed with a supple hand by Jeff Church, The Tangled Web is initially beset by a disconcerting range of acting styles; it takes about fifteen minutes for them all to reach compatibility. The actors who begin the play with overemphatic line readings become more natural as the play evolves. Perhaps they're grounded by the letter-perfect and touching performance of Stubblefield, who is wonderful as Owen -- the sweet, artistic guy high school girls love to have around as a friend but rarely perceive as a major catch.
Jeff McLaughlin's in-the-round set and Art Kent's lighting are fairly minimalist but evocative of something deeper, drenched in an unrelenting red save for a square of white that becomes a screen for videographer Zach Christman's projections. David Kiehl's sound design is effective in the nightclub scenes, and costumer Georgianna Londre captures the studied nonchalance that epitomizes adolescent style.