Transamerica: Wildflower

For a short play with a small cast and a simple set, “”Wildflower”” leaves a surprisingly big impression. It’s the kind of concise production – no set changes, no music, no effects more elaborate than a ringing phone – that satisfies every motivation and emotion with just a few brilliant strokes of the artist’s brush. Playwright Lila Rose Kaplan’s one-act play gets a whole lot done in a short amount of time, with sharp, poignant dialogue that never feels rushed.

The plot is uncluttered but provocative: A single mother and her disturbed son flee from an abusive father, briefly settling in a small midwestern town where they meet intriguing characters and suffer fate’s throws. The bulk of the play casually strolls through sexual tension and social awkwardness, sometimes with dark undertones involving deviance, murder and suicide. As the story progresses, the shadows of each character’s past begin to spread like a weed.

A bisexual triangle soon forms between the three main adults, Erica (Liz Jenkins), struggling to provide for her son Randolph (Irungu Mutu); James (Walter Belenky), on special assignment from the Air Force; and Mitchell (Dorian Christian Baucum), who rents a room to the other three. Erica and Mitchell’s attraction is more a product of their acting than the script, fueled by the strong sexual charge that explodes from Belenky onto the stage while Jenkins defends herself with a grand smile and boisterous voice. Baucum possesses the stage with the charisma and confidence of a veteran performer, making his character’s emotional breakdown late in the play one of the most striking moments in the show.

Meanwhile, the two teenagers partake in their own games: Mutu plays Randolph, socially isolated, botanically brilliant and benignly unnerving, with such sincerity that he illicits as much compassion as unease; opposite him, Jiehae Park nearly steals the show as Astor, a 15-year-old virgin set on losing that title with Randolph. But he is more interested in cultivating plants – namely Wolfsbane, a poisonous flower. While Randolph’s innocence is questionable, Astor’s character is the most genuine and lovable of them all. Like a kitten in heat, she prods Randolph with constant lures, her hook never seeming to catch.

Every member of the cast has a distinct presence on stage, never letting Kaplan’s work fall on a flat moment. Though its darker themes are easily disturbing or confounding, “”Wildflower”” handles them with candor and subtly that never once fail in their smooth delivery.

“”Wildflower”” plays April 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. in Mandell Weiss Forum studio. Admission is $8.