‘Rimers’ dreadfully good

Skelly Mannor (Justin Adams,) Nelly Windrod (Katie Kershaw,) and Mary Windrod (Sandra Forman) enact a scene from “The Rimers of Eldritch.”

Welcome to Eldritch – bastion of Bible-belt morality, home to small-town gossips and Mrs. Grove’s famous pie. A tad slow-paced maybe, but all in all, it’s a God-fearing, homey place to live.

Or maybe not.

“The Rimers of Eldritch” closes the fall season for the Department of Theatre and Dance. For two hours, the captive audience has a peeping-Tom’s-eye view of a creepy town where hypocrisy flows like holy water.

Mysterious, ghostly and disturbingly down-home, Eldritch was once the boom town site of a bustling coal mine, but now the coal’s all gone and it’s just a sagging, rusting shell of what it once was. All that’s left is a handful of families and their fading memories, petty gossip and duplicitous faith.

The atmosphere’s thick with dread from the beginning. Something’s gone sour in Eldritch. There’s been a murder, maybe a rape. But who’s to blame? The place is evil – a crazy old lady tells us so – but why?

The production of Lanford Wilson’s 1966 play of mystery and hypocrisy is expertly woven by director Mary Jo Beresford and performed by a full house of talented actors. The show is haphazard and chaotically timed – reflective of the town itself – so that for the first half of the show, the audience is left in a whirlwind of confusion, suspicion and doubt.

The stage is set on a series of platforms, each representing a different location. Most characters stay on the stage throughout the show and its minimalist approach emphasizes the fast-paced dialogue and disordered sequencing. As the audience pieces the puzzle together, the mesmerizing story takes shape.

Despite the extremely challenging script, this production showcases a wealth of talent. Especially memorable was a performance from NKU theater professor Sandra Forman as the unhinged old Mavis Johnson. Bent and child-like, with occasional flashes of disturbing insight, Mrs. Johnson was one of the few characters you feel is trustworthy, as if she were guileless and innocent for all her crazy prophesying.

Justin Adams played the old town nut, Skelly Mannor, with gusto. His husky voice and erratic movements conjured up a slightly twisted, but good-hearted, character with a long, shady past. He is the town perv and is possibly the most innocent of the citizens and a convenient scapegoat for unpleasant situations.

Also well-worth mentioning were performances from S. Justin Terry, as the angst-driven “Robert Conklin,” a teenage boy with a town legacy to live up to, and Jessica Javier, as Robert’s friend “Eva,” a young, day-dreamy handicapped girl. At first young and hopeful, it isn’t long before even Robert and Eva are dragged into the same poisonous path as their elders.

“The Rimers of Eldritch” is an intimate look at a society in decline – a society overwhelmed with pettiness and preoccupied with keeping up, at any cost, the appearances of a shallow and hypocritical faith. Fascinating and repellent at the same time, the production does credit to a story with a resonating message.