A darkly absurd exploration of power dynamics, this latest production from Dutch Kills Theater is a thrillingly surreal family drama by playwright Eric John Meyer. The New York-based company’s play,
Invigorating, captivating, and adventurously bizarre.
Colleen (Erin Mallon) lives with her sister, Leanne (Alley Scott), and Leanne’s husband, Bob (Ben Beckley), in the DIY-consumed shell of their home. The striking thing about the situation, however, is the unabashedly horrible treatment Colleen receives from her sister and brother-in-law. The couple routinely subject Colleen to a visceral barrage of emotional and verbal abuse, imposing a strange, non-sexual domination upon her as she is made to wear a dog’s collar and told to perform tricks. The two actors offer a compellingly discomforting performance as they ensure Colleen's sense of self-worth remains crushed. These apparently intractable dynamics are overturned, however, when Colleen elopes with the couple’s suave friend, Terry (Justin Yorio). In the absence of Colleen, Bob begins to exert his oppressive control over his former accomplice, Leanne, telling her she has “become the sister”, while Colleen begins to take after Bob in her relationship with Terry.
It is these fluctuating power relationships that lie a heart of the play, and the cast do an excellent job portraying them. In keeping with its surreal vibe, the acting is not entirely naturalistic, rather the cast speak in a precise, curiously heightened and intense style. This is a play that revels in its strangeness, with mysteries left ambiguous. In a way, this absurdity makes the story feel far removed from reality and its characters less relatable – something which softens the impact of the often vicious power dynamics.
The set is cleverly designed. The paint-splattered, half renovated room makes for a pretty mundane, domestic setting, but the entire stage is surrounded by the wooden framework of a half constructed wall. This timber structure allows the audience to see the stage perfectly, but it also makes the actors look like they’re imprisoned within a wooden cage.
This production is invigorating, captivating, and adventurously bizarre. The fascinating dynamics and well-crafted performances make for a gripping show.