Freshman actors fare well despite mature themes Special to the Herald
Photo by Courtesy of Jonas Grushkin: Lauren Brown rehearses for the role of Hillary, a therapist who has problems of her own.
Asked if she could sum up “Raised in Captivity,” a play by Nicky Silver, in one sentence, the play’s guest director, Lisa Kramer, hesitated. Instead, she came up with three words: Dark, honest and hilarious.
They are good words to describe a play that is complex and multilayered. It’s a play that ends the first act with two men describing death – one the death of his lover from AIDS, and the other a convict describing the murder he has committed. In a point-counterpoint strongly delivered by actors from Fort Lewis College on Friday, Silver brings a play about emotional stagnation to bear on the audience. Both men are cut off from their feelings.
This may not sound like a comedy, but that’s exactly what this quirky play is. It’s a funny exploration of serious issues: guilt, reparation and release. It opens with the death of Sebastian and Bernadette’s mother, Miranda, in a freak accident caused by a showerhead. The estranged twins, played by Eli Halterman and Mary Quinn, are brought together after a dozen years. Sebastian is emotionally bankrupt; Bernadette bubbles over and cries at everything. She is passive-aggressive. Sebastian is just passive.
Bernadette is married to Kip, a dentist who hates teeth and gives up his practice to paint. Matthew Mount plays Kip, the idealist, always looking for the new adventure.
Sebastian is pen pal to the convicted murderer Dylan. Sebastian’s therapist, Hillary, comes undone, and we learn that she herself has more problems than her patients. Miranda, the mother, returns as a ghost providing a bombshell of information about Bernadette and Sebastian.
Kramer has staged the play not on the main stage, but in the outer wings of the stage and pushed the players into the audience, building an extended stage over the first couple rows of seats. The action takes place in small “cages.” It works because these characters are on the fringe, and it puts the already uncomfortable audience even more on edge. The players are almost on top of the viewers in a play during which the audience doesn’t know whether to laugh, cry or cringe.
Act Two seems like a completely different play, set on the stage in the living room of Kip and Bernadette’s home. The characters combust together in this place and each finds a form of deliverance, of rescue or of escape from his or her lives.
For director Kramer, the play represents characters trapped by the way others perceive them, but really, the characters are trapped in their self-created identities. The freedom they seek often leads them to become more confined in the cages to which they limit themselves. In the end, some of the characters escape, others continue on an endless quest, never stopping to realize the redemption they seek is within.
The actors manage to find a balance between absurdity and hysterics. It’s a fine line. Sometimes they cross it. Sometimes they overact, but for the most part, the work is nuanced and the characters are portrayed with a consistency that is impressive, considering most of the players are freshmen, including Lauren Brown who plays Hillary, Halterman, Quinn and Vidak.
These young players handle a very adult play and its dark themes, intense ideas and colorful language with maturity beyond their years. None steals the show because they are all capable and confident on stage. However, Patrick Wiabel is powerfully angry as Dylan, the convicted murderer, and as Roger, a drug-addicted prostitute who appears in one scene.
Nathan Lee’s sets run a wide range from the opening graveyard – dark, gray and ghoulish – to Kip and Bernadette’s living room with its average sofa and dull wallpaper. Ginny Davis’ costumes place the characters somewhere between preppy and middle class.
The selection committee’s decision to choose a play like “Raised in Captivity” for young actors to perform is testament to the Fort Lewis College theater department. This lushly written play, with its elegant sentences and witty one-liners, requires impeccable timing. Not once does the play collapse in the hands of these students and their guest director.
Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the arts.