RYLEIGH NORGROVE/THE CHRONICLEDarcy Rust plays opposite her father, Tony Rust, in Cottage Theatre’s upcoming production of Seeking Red. “Getting to do these emotional scenes with my dad has been incredible,” said Darcy. “I don’t know if I could have done this role to the extent that I am without the knowledge that everyone in the room is supporting me.”

In Seeking Red, a gut-wrenching drama by new playwright and Cottage Grove native Glenn B. Rust, newshound Grey Rhodes begins to investigate her own story, sniffing out grisly, tooth-grinding details in a series of intimate confrontations with her past. As she digs into her mother’s murder, she unearths more than little white lies and painful truths.

Playing at Cottage Theatre in a visceral production directed by Kory Weimer, Seeking Red brings the entire Rust family to center stage. The male lead is Tony Rust. The female lead is his real-life daughter, Darcy Rust. A supporting character named Emily is played by Tony Rust’s wife, Janet Rust. And the playwright, Glenn Rust, was raised on the C.T. stage. The family affair made its west coast premiere on June 10, with an adventurous audience in tow. 

In Rust’s Seeking Red, the acting by the family members on the open, exposed stage displayed a daunting and ominous road paved with good intentions. As lies are unwound, Grey’s relationships do, too. At its core, the show is about honesty, truth, and judgment – all essential tools on a reporter’s belt. 

This coming-of-age story, set in drizzly, gloomy Seattle, starts like a gentle CSI nostalgia fest – with Grey (Darcy Rust) and her Uncle Ty (Tony Rust) scrubbing unmarked graves, drinking root beer and cryptically solving word puzzles. Answers like: authentic, continuous and observer foreshadow Grey’s challenges to come. Her puzzle obsession, a heavy-handed nod to investigative journalism, is the central motif guiding theater-goers through the piece as whip-smart Grey tries to solve her mother’s murder. The playwright piles reality upon reality until the quirkiness of the Rhodes family begins to show through their frigid facades. 

As an intern at The Seattle Times, Grey is assigned to work on a story about the “innocence project,” a real-life organization dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted felons. There, she meets Emily Ambrose (Janet Rust), a veteran reporter with a biting wit, who takes Grey on as an assistant. The two of them interview Cecil Fetter (Joshua Carlton), a grief-stricken man who wrongfully served 15 years of jail time for the murder of his younger sisters. Grey and Cecil form an unlikely friendship, bonding over the weight of their losses and the occasional coffee joke. Carlton brings nuance and depth to the role – it’s almost as if you can see the gray cloud above his head – while remaining a cornerstone of Grey’s journey. 

Crinkly polaroids emerge from damp coat pockets, illuminating Uncle Ty’s struggle to explain what really happened to Grey’s mother. As the two of them puzzle over their loss, their relationship and a path forward – Tony and Darcy Rust work together brilliantly, screaming, crying and laughing in the way only a family could. Tony Rust’s nonchalant, twinkling humor and raw emotion bring deep understanding to the horrific reality of trauma and loss. 

In setting up the exposition, the small details of the stage – such as a lone, stolen whiteboard with no markers – fully submerge the audience into the world of the play. The emptiness adds to the intimate feel of the story and invites audience members to become flies on the wall, watching Grey deconstruct the stories around her. 

Because the storyline tackles a deadly serious topic, the playful moments lighten the mood and add an eerie undertone to the production. While Grey works through her conflicting feelings about finding out someone she trusts has betrayed her, she utilizes refreshingly natural language and slang to emphasize her age and build credibility in the world of the play. Darcy Rust’s goofiness and snark brought much-needed breaks from the weighty, dark storyline and carried her through the harrowing moments Grey faced. 

As the show progresses, the audience gets a closer look into Grey’s internal struggles through the metaphor of transcribing interview recordings (a specific brand of boredom that was incredibly relatable to this audience member.) As her mind drifts, she begins interviewing herself, questioning her judgment and drive. These transcription scenes provide more insight into how Grey processes anger and betrayal and cleverly give the audience different characterizations of the narrative before it plays out. 

Seeking Red is a glamorous take on flubbing journalistic ethics that brings the viewer into a winding mystery full of heart, drama, serial killers and serial jalapeño eaters. In exploring each character and their varied experience with mourning, the production draws attention to trauma in a tangible way. It directly shows families’ challenging conversations in the aftermath of loss – walking a tightrope of intimate moments and tragic realities. Seeking Red brought all the twists and turns of a well-worn paperback mystery, drawing the audience in and keeping us hot on the case. 

Ryleigh Norgrove is a reporter for The Chronicle.