Spine: Review of ‘On Clover Road’ at Contemporary American Theater Festival

A mother has lost her child to a cult; its leader has taken her as his divine bride. A de-programmer, whose own child died mysteriously, has come to the mother’s aid, for a kidnapping and breaking of the cult’s powerful psychological spell. A cult member, a young woman with a fierce ambition to rise in the ranks of the cult, enters the scene. The cult leader himself, a former salesman who knows how to spot a self-esteem issue and exploit it, kidnaps the mother.

Tasha Lawrence as Kate and Lee Sellars as Stine. Photo by Seth Freeman.
Tasha Lawrence (Kate) and Lee Sellars (Stine). Photo by Seth Freeman.

On Clover Road by Steven Dietz purports no insight into the human condition; it claims no perspective on cults and the American psyche in the 21st century.

On Clover Road is pure mystery play, with more twists than a pretzel and more tension than a rubber band stretched to its limit of endurance.

A tightly woven drama, Dietz’s play will consume your attention for its full 90 minutes, and you’ll leave the theatre fully entertained.

Molly Carden as a Girl. Photo by Seth Freeman.
Molly Carden (A Girl. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Ed Herendeen directs this top notch cast, led by Tasha Lawrence in the role of Kate Hunter, working class single mother who chooses her men badly and has drunk a few too many whiskeys to drown the results. Lawrence’s Kate has multi-dimensions, all of them believable, all of them rich with pain.

Her daughter, played by Molly Brown, disappeared 4 years ago into the clutches of cult- god, Harris McClain, played by Tom Coiner. Brown delivers an eerily frightening performance as the deified daughter, even though her appearance is brief and wistful. Coiner’s performance as the over-confident shyster and healer of lost souls is all manipulation. He’s one character that the audience would feel no pity for if his salesman-self disappeared into a black hole.

Tom Coiner as Harris McClain. Photo by Seth Freeman.
Tom Coiner (Harris McClain). Photo by Seth Freeman.

Lee Sellars plays the venomous Stine, the brute and breaker of divine spells. His performance will leave you chilled and with a thorough understanding of what “bitter to the bone” might mean. Yet, despite his brutishness, we flinch at any possibility that harm may befall him.

Finally, we have Molly Carden, the clever girl with the fierce ambition. Carden’s performance is all smoke and mirrors, of the authentic kind. She will do anything to be closer to her “god” — it seems.

Yet, nothing is as it seems in Dietz’s dingy motel, except for the motel itself, designed with authentic abandonment by designer David M. Barber. John Ambrosone adds lights to the authenticity, as well as some fantastic shadows. Therese Bruck does country costumes and sound designer David Remedios affects the proceedings with an appropriately eerie score.

In addition, fight director Aaron Anderson adds punches, gags, and a few other violent upheavals.


On Clover Road plays through tomorrow, August 2, 2015, at the Contemporary American Theater Festival performing in the Marinoff Theater – Center for Contemporary Arts/II – 62 West Campus Drive, in Shepherdstown, WV. For tickets, call the box office at (304) 876-3473/(800) 999-2283, or purchase them online.

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