A Map of Virtue
nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
February 9, 2012
The power of the unknown and inexplicable to evoke fear is wonderfully utilized in 13P’s fantastic A Map of Virtue. There are mysteries in the woods in the night that mirror our minds’ shadowy corners. Go see this play if you’d enjoy such a journey in the ambiguous dark.
Through a number of coincidences, Sarah and Mark keep encountering each other: in a café, on the Irish coast, on the street, and at a party. We hear Sarah’s detachment from the first time Maria Striar speaks. You can tell there is something she desperately wants yet has no idea how to achieve. Jon Norman Schneider as Mark seems similarly disturbed. Both obsess about each other, imagining the other’s life. At the core of the chance encounters is a bird statue, personified by Birgit Huppuch, which Mark stole from his old sexually abusive headmaster’s office, and leaves on a bench by the ocean, and which Sarah takes then with her and makes famous paintings of, which Mark finds on display in a shop and cuts with a knife. There is an enmity between the two, until while laughing together drunk at a party, a woman asks if they, along with Sarah’s husband, would like to join her to go to another party outside the city. Eventually each character reflects about why he/she got into a stranger’s windowless van to go to an unknown party, and as opposed to feeling the victims of circumstance, that all seem to have somehow gone deliberately, going towards an unknown because of their present circumstances.
They arrive at a cabin in the woods. After a couple of moments awkwardly wondering about the party, they decide to leave. While they were sleeping in the car their phones were taken. A man named Ray introduces himself, and explains how he is called "you" and commanded around when wearing a frightening bird mask he has made of cardboard. June, the woman who brought them there, and Ray, leave, and our crew finds themselves locked in.
In the midst of this terror, Ray, played by Jesse Lenat, croons a tune on the banjo; Lenat twists his foot in circles, knocks on the banjo head rapidly as a repeated lead in, pauses ominously. Playwright Erin Courtney is brilliant to place a slow song, sung by one of the kidnappers, at this moment of tension where we are totally unaware of his motives or the fate of our protagonists.
I do not want to reveal what happens in the woods. The repeated image of Ray standing in incomprehensible silence donning the bird mask is surprisingly unsettling. Ken Rus Schmoll’s ability to frighten us without using shock tactics, to bask in silent stillness or to create a barely moving image that sustains our focus, is impressive direction. Tyler Micoleau’s lighting and Daniel Kluger’s eerie sound design, keep us in the mystery.There’s nothing I can explain about this play, and that’s part of what I loved about it. Courtney’s world is wrought with uncertainty, which allows us sink into its terror.