Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review - Raised in Captivity (Red Fern Theatre Company)

Review by Byrne Harrison

You think your life is bad? Chances are it's pretty good compared to those of the characters portrayed in Nicky Silver's Raised in Captivity. Silver's dark absurdist comedy is filled with damaged people, desperate need and longing, failed attempts to connect, and some good laughs.

Sebastian (Josh Lefkowitz) and Bernadette (Emilie Elizabeth Miller) are estranged twins brought together by the death of their mother. Bernadette is married to Kip (Bryant Mason), a dentist who hates teeth. Both long for an escape from their lives. Sebastian is still grieving his lover, Simon, who died from AIDS eleven years earlier. The closest he has come to a relationship in recent years is with Dylan (José Joaquín Pérez), a convicted murder on death row with whom he has become pen pals. Despite Bernadette's pleas for Sebastian to come stay with them, it's met with great relief on all sides when he doesn't.

Sebastian's only other significant relationship is with his clingy, needy therapist (Jennifer Dorr White). After four years without any growth or change, he fires her. Her abandonment issues lead her down a path of lunacy much greater than her clients likely ever faced. Blinded and homeless, she nevertheless jumps at the chance to help Sebastian when he is nearly killed by a hustler (Pérez) who slashes him in a pickup turned robbery. Moving in with Kip and Bernadette, who are helping Sebastian through his convalescence, her presence only makes Sebastian withdraw further, and drives a wedge between Kip and Bernadette, finally bringing everything to a head, and giving the characters the change the so desperately need.

Silver's dialogue is marvelous and witty, with a surprising depth. This is particularly true in a scene where Sebastian is describing Simon's death while Dylan describes the murder he committed. The humor is always laced with a little venom or a hint of the gallows. It's a pleasure to hear.

Jennifer Dorr White as Hillary steals the show. Though Hillary is unbalanced, and eventually unhygenic, White nonetheless imparts a certain dignity to her, without undercutting her basic desperation. Lefkowitz as Sebastian does well, though his chemistry with Pérez (either as Dylan or as Roger, the hustler) brings out the best in him. Both Mason and Miller as Kip and Bernadette acquit themselves well, but there is a flatness to their characters. Although they provide some of the laugh lines of the show (Bernadette in particular), their characters seem underdeveloped.

The Red Fern Theatre Company does an admirable job brining Raised in Captivity to life. Dominic D'Andrea's direction is strong, though a decision to have various monologues spoken into downstage microphones is awkward. Scenic and lighting designers Eliza Brown and Jessica Greenberg, respectively, do well with the Shell Theater's tiny space.

Raised in Captivity won't be for everyone. But for audience members looking for a challenge, it is well worth checking out.

Written by Nicky Silver
Directed by Dominic D'Andrea
Scenic Designer: Eliza Brown
Costume Designer: Emily DeAngelis
Lighting Designer: Jessica Greenberg
Sound Designer: Daniel Kluger
Fight Director: Qui Nguyen
Properties Designer: Ashton Giaume
Stage Manager: Erienne Wredt
Assistant Director: T.J. Clark
Illustrator: Chris Flecker

Featuring: Josh Lefkowitz (Sebastian), Bryant Mason (Kip), Emilie Elizabeth Miller (Bernadette), José Joaquín Pérez (Roger/Dylan), Jennifer Dorr White (Hillary/Miranda)

The Shell Theater
300 W. 43rd Street

January 29th-February 15th