nytheatre.com review by E. Michael Lockley
June 26, 2009
One of the staples of the horror genre is the art of deception. Make your audience think one thing, and suddenly surprise them with another. While director-choreographer-performer Sue Kim utilizes this art in Darling it does not work to her advantage.
Darling is being advertised as a "black comedy," "the story of family" inspired by the dysfunction in such horror movies as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. While horror is most certainly evident watching Darling, unfortunately there is no comedy and no clear family narrative; so ultimately an audience that may have been drawn in by the play's description or the chuckle-inducing poster may be left feeling deceived.
The first moment of this piece is a dynamic moment of horror. Two bodies lay on stage in darkness facing away from the audience, and a flashlight shines on them. As the light sweeps over their bodies the suspense is palpable because everyone knows that in film tradition this is the moment when the monster suddenly appears or the serial killer sneaks in or any of the numerous other horror clichés that keep filmgoers yearning for more is about to happen. In this case, the two bodies rise and begin to dance. It is an eerie dance with their backs to the audience that concludes with both women turning to face the audience and letting out blood-curdling screams as they wildly run off stage.
From here, heavy breathing, monster sounds, creepy entrances and dim lighting characterize the first few minutes of the show. This changes when from time to time up-tempo pop music replaces the eerie tunes and modern contemporary dance replaces the "horror movement vocabulary." It was never quite clear to me why these shifts would happen or what they meant for the characters on stage. And while there were hints of a relationship between characters, there wasn't enough consistency to establish a clear story.
Sue Kim's most interesting moments are in her staging: when the lighting, set, and the bodies of the actors are in perfect harmony to create on-stage moments from classic horror cinema. The choreography, which often showcases the horror genre's affinity for the mixture of slow, suspense-building movement with measured, staccato ticks, is effective. Jodi Bender, Sue Kim, Ryan McNamara, and Liz Santoro showcase themselves well as they move across the set and adapt well to the sudden changes in style that happen throughout. However the expectations of a somewhat comedic, horror family drama were not met. The dancers certainly proved that they could move, but unfortunately the play seemed to stand still.