Even before the first actor takes to the stage, the dark mood of Low Country Boil — billed as “A violent new play about our fair city”— has already been set. In what could be considered the play’s first act, theatergoers pass through the iron fence of the antebellum Circular Congregational Church in historic downtown Charleston and, in the eerie moonlight, navigate the crumbling gravestones and above-ground tombs that lead to Upper Lance Hall, PURE Theatre’s provisional stage.

The hyper-local original piece, written and directed by R.W. Smith, picks up within hours of where his 2008 play, Horse Tranqs & Carriage People, left off. Cath (Jenny Pringle), a promiscuous local underachiever, carriage worker, and sometimes caterer, has just made off with half a million dollars stolen from a Premier Art benefit. In the opening scene, Cath seeks respite at her family’s Sullivan’s Island beach house, but upon her arrival is surprised by her drunk, 30-something brother Nick (David Mandel) who is holding a beer-fueled boy’s weekend for his old CofC buddies to watch basketball and escape their wives.

Seated on risers adjacent to the curtain-free stage, the audience is quickly filled in on Cath’s robbery and the distrust and violence that ensued during the getaway. By the end of the opening scene, Cath learns she has been “had” by her co-conspirator and lowlife boyfriend Linus (played by the multi-talented Smith) for an additional $2 million of stolen money, has killed an obnoxious yuppy party-goer associated with Premier Art by stabbing him in the crotch with an oyster shucker, and has decided to abandon her original escape plan in lieu of returning to Charleston to avenge Linus. 

Between loud rock music-filled blackouts, it is revealed that the smooth talking and corrupt Charleston Mayor, played for laughs by Robbie Thomas, has been exploiting the wannabe cultured among Charleston’s wealthy set by raising money for Premier Arts, a fake charity the mayor set up to funnel cash into his own pocket. Unaware of the mayor’s scheme, Cath and her crew of amateur thieves have unwittingly stolen the mayor’s entire $2.5 million stash. The star-crossed Cath now has the mayor’s ruthless goons after her.

The outrageous tale unfolds from here with a spicy mix of laugh-out-loud and cringe-worthy moments. Highlights include the perfectly executed hand-in-meat grinder torture scene hilariously narrated in song by standouts Will Hodge, who plays the mayor’s self-righteous nerdy assistant, and Brian DeCosta as a sociopathic hit man. The character relationships and interconnected subplots are evocative of Charleston’s small-town, incestuous nature, where everyone is associated by blood or romance. Cath is the only constant in this fast-moving play, and Pringle captivates the audience with the protagonist’s tomboy innocence and rough and tumble nonchalance. The audience roots for her even as she kills without hesitation.

If the story sounds confusing, that’s because it is. While Smith wrote Low Country Boil to stand independently of Horse Tranqs & Carriage People, the play feels like a sequel, and at times it leaves new viewers out of the loop. Additionally, some of the characters such as Nick and Liz (Katie Huard), Linus’ new girlfriend, while well-played, are superfluous, providing more comic relief than plot value. Despite these shortcomings, it is hard to criticize Low Country Boil, as the play is clearly designed to amuse rather than evoke deep thought, and it is undeniably entertaining. Fearless and well-planted jabs at Charleston — from the Battery to Mt. Pleasant — are written and delivered with native ease, and in the intimate Upper Lance Hall, the boisterous beer and wine-equipped audience has as much fun as the actors. In the end, Low Country Boil serves up a healthy portion of “rock ‘n’ roll”-style entertainment, perfect for kicking off another rowdy Charleston night.

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