Monday, June 21, 2010

Horror From Shadows

Alchemist Theatre’s CLOSET LAND

By Russ Bickerstaff
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I didn’t sleep well last night. It’s not often that a play can do that for me. Alchemist Theatre really lives-up to its name with its production of Closet Land. The script is solid, but not particularly brilliant. The acting is good, but not particularly inspiured. Somehow unremarkable elements come together to make something profoundl disturbing—emotionally affecting on a overwhelming level. And so I didn’t sleep very well last night.

By the time this blog gets activated, my attendance of Closet Land will have been a few nights behind me. I will have written a review of the show which will be featured in the coming week’s Shepherd-Express. I will have put the show behind me, but there’s something really, really disturbing about it and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to get into it.

Based on an independent film from the ‘90’s, the play felt to me a bit like a cross between Alan Moore’s original V For Vendetta and scenes from the end of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. On entering the theatre, attendees are given one of the better-written programs I’ve seen this year. It goes into the background of the individual actors’ and director’s involvement in the project with a satisfying amount of detail. In there as well is a copy of a form apology letter referred to in the script . . . an apology from the government for being unjustly attained. It’s little elements like that—little elements of production that add to the whole experience.

As an interrogation drama, Closet Land feels a bit flat. I wasn’t that impressed with the script itself. It was written long before news of our own government’s own interrogation techniques.had become a matter of public record. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay had yet to happen. Reports of what happened in those places, (which are outlined in part in Jon Ronson’s original novel The Men Who Stare At Goats—one of many parts of the book that didn’t make it to the film . . . ) end up feeling remarkably surreal. They’re a twisted tour of the darker places in the human psyche and they get weird. And it would be weird rto see them put on stage—it’d be very, very compelling stuff, but Closet Land was written in the early ‘90’s . . . long before such techniques entered the popular consciousness. . . and so we get a plot that draws on the overarching themes of defiance and aggression in dark, tiny spaces . . . a drama which plays out much more in rooms that don’t have the benefit of a theatergoing audience. . . a drama that is all too mundane and commonplace. And that’s exactly how it’s presented here . . . an everyday atrocity that pries into the human psyche of two truly unremarkable people.

Aaron Kopec is fun to watch as captor, but he’s an unremarkable bureaucrat here. Jenna Wetzel is profoundly vulnerable in the role of the children’s book author who is being interrogated, but she doesn’t pull much more out of the script than raw vulnerability. These are truly unremarkable people in an all too mundane situation that just happens to involve an over-exaggerated totalitarian government which seems to be everywhere at the same time. . . it’s creepy, but the raw psychological impact of the play is far more intense than anything else going on here. The emotional intensity of the play is hidden in plain sight. I teared-up at the right places, (I never tear-up) but I didn’t expect to lose any sleep over the production. Director Beth Lewinski and company have developed a production that lives-up to Alchemist’s name . . . the incredibly commonplace, when put through the right process under the right conditions, can become something darkly radiant—something very, very valuable. On the surface of it, there isn’t much here. It’s what the production does to the psyche beyond the surface—that’s where the drama really lives.

Alchemist Theatre’s production of Closet Land runs through July 3rd. A concise review of the show runs in the Shepherd-Express later-on this week.  

 

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