The lighting is stark. The stage is silent. Jessica London-Shields (Woolfe) methodically removes her clothes. She pulls on a one-piece, army-colored jumper. She sets up a camera and two tape recorders. Then, London-Shields binds her wrists from a rope suspended from a grappling hook. And in a gasp-worthy way, she violently flails until she goes eerily still. Blackout.
That’s the intrigue and startling beginning of Playwright Morgan McNaught’s new play. The play engages as it looks like performance art, sounds like therapy sessions and feels like Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit”. McNaught puts three distinct individuals in a state of limbo. London-Shields joins Shariba Rivers (Gertrude) and Chris Fowler (Christopher) in a quirky storage room packed with boxes. When we meet the other two lost souls, Rivers is preoccupied with breaking these lovely oversize red ornaments while Fowler is preoccupied with Andrew Hobgood (Fred). Hobgood plays a tyrannical therapist. He forces the threesome to relive their worst moments in an attempt to learn from their past. Hobgood suggests once they grapple and accept their life ending, they are able to pass into the next dimension.
From her clothing and her storytelling, we assess that Rivers has been working through her past since the 1930s. Although we understand London-Shields is a recent arrival, Fowler’s timing is a little more vague. Under Director Jesse Roth’s sinister orchestration, the ensemble repeatedly suffer through painful moments. As a ‘learning‘ tool, Hobgood tortures them. The talented ensemble is disconcertingly good about dying…repeatedly. At one point, the three are in see-through body bags. The visual is unforgettable.
This is a physical show with death-invoking feats. The actors work tirelessly to convey the content. There isn’t any time to mourn as people die, awake to die again. It’s emotionally exhausting. McNaught’s play is an enigma. Although London-Shields‘ story wraps up in an unexpected and satisfactory way, the others’ lives more questions than answers. We do get a glimpse at Rivers’ past and there is mention of a bus. I’m not certain how that all went together. Was it suicide? Or an accident? In addition, the characters of Christopher and Fred feel unfinished. I don’t understand who they were or what they want presently. It’s puzzling.
THE TERRIBLE isn’t terrible. It’s an interesting concept that feels unfinished. More backstory would give it more depth. Still, in its current form, it has that Halloween scary dark vibe. And ‘tis the season to be frightened by ghostly visits from beyond the grave.
Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission
At The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee
Written by Morgan McNaught
Directed by Jesse Roth
Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Thru November 21st
For reservations, visit www.thenewcolony.org
Photo by Evan Hanover
For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago.