Something Weird. . .in the Red Room
nytheatre.com review by Megin Jimenez
October 17, 2008
It's hard to surprise with a story nowadays—we live so gorged on films and books, we seem to approach a narrative with a supreme sense of knowing where it's going. The two short plays presented in Something Weird...in the Red Room show a savvy awareness of our stock skepticism, focusing instead on how a story is told. The plays feed on the visual language of film, and assume this common knowledge base of tropes and clichés from the audience. While dabbling in supernatural themes, both works shrug off any serious attempt to spook a 21st century audience and instead settle for at times bewildered, at times lascivious, and at times enchanted laughter.
Sir Sheever (written by Benjamin Spiro) centers on the inherent creepiness of dolls, using a carnivalesque, gothic sensibility (or "early Tim Burton," in the words of director Rachel Klein). A demented heiress (in Baby Jane makeup) plays endless games of social intrigue with four mannequins (played by live actors), when a burglar stumbles in. The premise of the crook staying on to play at tea parties in exchange for ill-fitting, expensive jackets is so paper-thin, the action could skip over the lengthy (and overly familiar) exposition and cut straight to the dolls. The play really gets moving as soon as the mannequins get involved. The physicality of the actors as jointless objects brought to life is outstanding. Megan O'Connor is particularly impressive as the insufferably snobby pull-string doll Miss Prissypants; you can almost see the machinery whirring inside her before she speaks.
Aenigma (written by Sean Gill) plunges us into an entirely different universe, this one of David Lynch extraction. Bizarre non-sequiturs, sexy dancing, fuzzy memories of the night before, an incriminating videotape, an alluring stranger with dark powers—they're all here in madcap form. Key events and relationships among characters are thrown out haphazardly; putting together the puzzle is part of the fun. Jillaine Gill holds together the madness with a strong performance as the dreamy half of a showbiz sister duo. The movement and choreography (also by director Rachel Klein) are again the most solid component of the show and serve as the much-needed links between fragments.
It is to Klein's credit that each piece retains a distinct aesthetic, from color palette to sound design to campy dances. The young company could still stand to be reigned in a bit. While the cast does carry the audience along with full energy, high-pitched, loud timbres and a chorus of clomping high heels at times accost in the small space. Something Weird...in the Red Room is just right for a fun night out in October, as good as a horror double feature with the clever commentary thrown in.