4 Stars out of 4
Jen Silverman’s difficult play Phoebe in Winter is a visceral, violent tale that is an indictment of family. The raw and messy production currently up at Facility Theatre in the basement of Holy Trinity Church School is a brilliant comment on our time and this prevailing pit of the stomach anxiety we find ourselves trapped in right now.
Director Dado envisions a disorienting intimate installation as the world for this apocalyptic tale to inhabit. The show is set in a world of Aftermath, and set designer Joseph Wade captures the essence. We, the audience, enter the open basement of the church school and three grandmas (Emma Bean, Sarah Thompson Johansen, Zachary Angus) are playing an eerie score on wine glasses. It is reminiscent of keening at a funeral. We are ushered through the door into a close room where an older gentleman, Da Creedy, played with pathos by Kirk Anderson, is reading and his maid, Boggett, a cowering Shawna Franks, is pacing, tidying. She, like Eve, hands him an apple. We are closed into this world.
There is a war going on. A deafening knock on the door occurs and two of Creedy’s sons have returned. Bogget questions as to where the third son has gone. Another knock and a gun toting woman takes them all hostage: she claims that the two brothers have killed her brothers and now the people in this house will become her family. She takes over and controls. She says: What Should Be has been replaced by What Is. In this universe for the next hour and half these characters create a universe where, as Phoebe says, Things Do Not Get Fixed. Da Creedy and Boggett, seething son Jeremiah (the darkly negotiating Jacob Alexander) and the conciliatory Anther ( a nervous David Dowd) try to fulfill the roles and while secretly plotting an escape from Phoebe. The script ranges from surrealism and Waiting for Godot like one liners to blood and guts realism. The characters maneuver around each other in an exhausting game and we see that The Family is our first training ground for every form of human interaction, from love, networks and take no prisoners war. And family can betray you like no one else. We begin to surmise that Liam, the missing brother, is dead, killed by his own siblings. And then there is another echoing knock and Liam, a tender Eliot Baker, arrives spurting blood from a Rube Goldberg contraption that shoots fake blood out of his forehead. A bathtub now centers the stage and characters will keep finding reasons to submerge. Shawna Franks has morphed into a domineering brother and she has forced Da Creedy to become Boggett. The family cleaves into warring camps and begins an all out war against itself. The entire plot twists unexpectedly leaving the audience stunned and the roomin a total disaster: busted bookcases, blood, water and books everywhere.
Dado has assembled a fearless ensemble that leaves nothing on the upturned table. This is a work for the gut not the prefrontal cortex. The visual and auditory information assembles itself like an impressionistic painting in your head, layering words and visuals into meaning as we stumble along following the plot with our intuition.
This experience is not for the faint of heart. So much rage splashes through the room. Every character must cope with unbearable loss and it contorts them into something unrecognizable. There is a tiny drop of redemption at the end but it is a teardrop in an ocean of anger. This evening felt like a fable for the the last week. Don’t miss this show, but bring a friend so you aren’t alone.
Phoebe in Winter runs Thursday through Sunday through October 21st. Tickets and information are available at www.facilitytheatre.org