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Cuddles
by Joseph Wilde
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
November 4, 2106

Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

I was expecting an “ordinary” play about vampires. What I got is something more complex than that, and I should have known considering who is staging it. Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble, the ambitious, always adventurous theatre company that never seems to be afraid of taking risks, is now presenting an unusual and somewhat disturbing play, Cuddles. Although it takes a while to figure out exactly what it’s about, it presents a world that’s at once fantastical and realistic, and not a little unsettling. Marked by SATE’s characteristic strong acting and inventive use of its performance space, Cuddles provides a unique and distinctly memorable theatrical experience.

According to Eve (Rachel Tibbetts), she’s a teenage vampire being brought up by her older sister, Tabby (Ellie Schwetye) after the death of their father. Eve’s world is a world of fairy tales, dragons, princesses, very strict rules, and a seemingly insatiable hunger for blood. Tabby’s world, however, appears to be quite different. While Eve never leaves the small, dark room in which she lives, Tabby carries on a regular job in present-day London, trying to live a “normal” life day by day and returning at night and on weekends to spend time with Eve, who has to be kept hidden from the world because it’s not safe for her to be living in the human world. Eve knows the three things that kill vampires, and one of them is sunlight, so she stays in her dark room and recites the rules to herself while she waits for Tabby to return. The rules, however, may not be as inflexible as Eve had thought, although Eve has grown accustomed to the routine, even though Tabby has begun to bristle against it.  I don’t want to describe too much more about the plot because the discovery process is part of the drama, but lets just say that not everything is as it seems for either of these characters.

The atmosphere here is dark, creepy, and mysterious in an increasingly creepy way.  Tibbetts presents Eve as childlike, determined, and firmly devoted to the rules and the image of the world as she sees it. It’s an impressive, primal sort of performance from Tibbetts, and her sense of attachment to Tabby is clearly conveyed. Schwetye, as Tabby, presents a character who is at once more conventional and more mysterious than Eve, because it’s clear that although Tabby cares for Eve, she yearns for a more normal life, although it’s clear that she has secrets of her own. The dependent relationship of these two is the central characteristic of this play, with all its intensity and increasingly unsettling mystery.  There definitely seem to be metaphorical aspects here, of “monsters” that may or may not be literal but are still real and menacing. This is all extremely well-portrayed by Tibbetts, Schwetye, and director Joe Hanrahan in this compelling, confrontational, sometimes witty and snarky, sometimes intensely dramatic play.

That dark, dank, claustrophobic atmosphere is well achieved in the technical elements of this play. Bess Moynihan’s set effectively portrays the stark, bleak living situation that Eve inhabits. The lighting, also by Moynihan, augments that atmosphere with striking effect. Elizabeth Henning’s costumes do well to highlight the difference between the isolated Eve and the more worldly Tabby, and director Hanrahan’s sound is clear and strong.

Overall, this is more than a play about vampires. True to the format of fairy stories that Eve tells to start the play, this is a play as much about fantasy as is it about reality, and about what happens when fantasy confronts reality and vice versa.  Although the story as it unfolds does seem more and more implausible as it continues, the production here brings the story to life with much immediacy and intense emotion. The situation may be hard to believe, but the characters’ motives are clearly communicated and believably presented. It’s another strong production from SATE.

Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye Photo by Joey Rumpell Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Rachel Tibbetts, Ellie Schwetye
Photo by Joey Rumpell
Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble’s production of Cuddles is being presented at the Chapel until November 12, 2016. 

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