Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review of Facility Theatre's Phoebe in Winter

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Phoebe in Winter. It was by Jen Silverman, and it was directed by Dado. It was about a family whose sons--Jeremiah (Jacob Alexander), Anther (David Dowd), and Liam (Elliot Baker)--had been at war and were now returning home. Waiting for them at home are their maid Boggett (Shawna Franks) and their father Da Creedy (Kirk Anderson). Boggett has a special attachment to one of the sons, Liam, and when he doesn't return she is devastated. Suddenly in the midst of this homecoming, Phoebe (Maria Stephens) arrives with a gun and tells everybody that she will be their new sister because they killed her brothers. They battle the new family dynamics this forces them into and debate who will take on what roles. It is about war, family, and how they can be like one another. I had a very visceral reaction to this show. A lot of strangely disturbing things happen, and I am excited to explore and talk about this play more.

The atmosphere of this show is very eerie. They have live sound effects and music (composed by Emmy Bean) coming from the other room. On your way into the theater, there are people in masks (Bean, Sarah Thompson Johansen, and Zachary Angus) striking wine glasses and wandering around. They would also walk around in the theater and mutter things under their breath. There are people walking in your path while you are trying to get to your seat muttering things you can't quite understand, and this is all very disconcerting. The set was like a Victorian painting after a fight. The entire show is also performed on steps that the audience also is seated on (set design by Joseph Wade). My chair was on two steps, which gave me a teetering feeling and made me feel a bit uneasy. The actors have to use the steps throughout the show and I was worried one of them might hurt themselves. It keeps you on the edge of your seat for you and the people you are watching. They also used a strobe light (lighting design by Mike Durst), which is something else to make you disoriented. All the props seemed to have a gothic feel to them and the actors would throw things and no one on stage seemed to notice or care. And they had all these foods (prop design by Samantha Rausch) that looked sort of like roast beef but it was like uncooked and big and stringy. It was very gross and looked like a part of a corpse. The entire room reminded me of an Ivan Albright painting, just the whole disintegration of something that once was beautiful. The entire atmosphere looks unwelcoming and uncouth. I think the production wants you to feel uncomfortable and intrigued. You are kind of on your guard the whole time like you would be on a battlefield.

What happens in this show is also very distressing. They had a blood pump that one of the characters wore when he came back from the war. It would get blood all over and sometimes when he would speak, blood would shoot out of his head and drip down onto his face. The audience would react to it in a really weird way. People would laugh, and I get that it is funny to be interrupted by your own blood shooting you in the face, but I couldn't laugh about it because I felt so sorry for him. I am a very empathetic person and it was weird to me to see people laughing at someone losing blood while he was talking. Laughter can be a way people respond to uncomfortable or horrifying things, so I think that was what was happening. There is also a part of the show where a character drowns while someone is holding their head underwater. It is very sudden and violent and you can see the feet kicking from the other side. It was very creepy, but the visual was really cool even though what was happening was really gross. (I did not see a fight choreographer listed in the program, which freaks me out a little bit, but I hope they were safe.)

I think the show was trying to show us how horrifying the family dynamic was and how it could reflect our own. It was also trying to show the connection between families and war and how the line is much thinner than you might think it could be because of how some families treat each other. They actually go to war against each other in this show instead of figuratively going to war. They also switch roles in the household, so Boggett becomes Liam and the father becomes Boggett and Phoebe joins the family as their new sister. Once all their roles had changed, they seemed to have love for the replacement and not the actual person, which is a really interesting thing to think about.

People who would like this show are people who like blood pumps, grotesque gothic meals, and teetering on the edge of sanity. I think this is a very interesting show. I am still thinking about a lot of parts of it. It has some really good philosophical and gut-wrenching ideas and a really interesting concept.

Photos: Leslie Schwartz Photography

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