Right away you know something is very wrong here. The mannequins with their glassy eyes and waxen complexions, an insane “hostess,” the Nickelodeon-on-a-meth-binge kids’ show, plus other bloodsuckers, can only lead to one result, which Something Weird... In The Red Room readily provides: dances with death. Directed and choreographed by Rachel Klein, both of the evening’s pieces are dominated by their movement, and executed with accomplished nuance, from the creepy mannequin stirrings of Sir Sheever to the amazing dream ballet and reenacted video sequences included in the twisted Aenigma. Aenigma, written by Sean Gill, is a brilliantly integrated piece, moving from live action, to impressions of video playback, to fantasy (or nightmare) cycles by way of key lighting and music changes which trigger the audience’s subterranean understanding without missing a beat. The Body Rock Crew dance breaks, the slo-mo replays, heightened by psychedelic lighting effects and a soundtrack featuring pop tracks and even an inspired bit from Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite composer, Bernard Hermann, all work together to evoke something even deeper and more sinister than the already-problematic situation which two TV/pop star sisters face after a cast party goes terribly awry.
The structure, pace, and storytelling are satisfyingly non-traditional, which helps to achieve a more credible and complimentary texture for the darkly funny circumstances of Aenigma. Gill’s dips into the surreal are masterful, while surface dialogue, humor and character quirks seem perfectly natural and coexistent as well.
Jillaine Gill, the playwright’s sister and frequent collaborator, gives a remarkable performance as Diana, one half of the troubled pair. As the heart and (sold-out) soul of the piece, she artfully communicates her dark and confusing journey somehow without missing one beat of honesty or belief. She magically allows everything to simply play upon her face, her stance, and her movements. If this work is any indication, the Gill siblings as a brother-sister team could rival other talented relations known as Gyllenhaal, Arquette, or even demented Osmonds. Adding their own brand of wonderful sickness, of course.
Elizabeth Stewart as Diana’s sister Charlotte is delightfully cloying and also fun to watch as she glides herself in and out of each precarious situation. The Body Rock Crew as chorus (and participants) both ground, as well as heighten the bizarre action, which crawls out from the crevice somewhere between fantasy and reality from whence this captivating piece emanates.
The evening's opening piece Sir Sheever is also something of an atmospheric accomplishment. The premise of Ralph the burglar happening into Miss Elise’s house of horrors works, but I’m not sure the play fully hits the heights (or the depths) of what could be imagined. First of all, I didn’t understand why he couldn’t escape – after all, he got in. Ok, bitch was crazy, but still. But with the suspension of that disbelief, by the time the delicate balance of mannequin, as well as the house manners, is struck and Ralph begins his transformation into Sir Sheever, the audience is fully along for the ride. We can’t wait to see the mannequins’ revenge on their captors and tormentors. How are they going to come to life? Are they going to revolt? Can they kill on demand?
The ensuing action feels somewhat slow in advancing, but Bret Haines as Ralph does convey a bit of the resigned “ok, I’ll just go along with this so I can get the hell out of here” vibe like the beleaguered Griffin Dunne character in Martin Scorsese's 1985 black comedy After Hours. Part of him seems to be getting into his new role, and maybe he doesn’t really want to escape anymore anyway. A touch of Stockholm Syndrome perhaps? Kari Warchock plays the psychotic Miss Elise, who manages to maintain her frantic intensity throughout the piece. I wish playwright Benjamin Spiro had provided a few glimmers into her psyche, or a line or two about whatever events may have led to her current state, but otherwise she’s perfectly suitable as the requisite nut job.
Supporting this cozy tête-à-tête is the cast of twitchingly eerie mannequins, Abigail Hawk as the cool Eunice, Candy Bloise as the disinterested Euripides, Michael Porsche as the corpse-like Robert, Ted Caine as the randy, agile Fredrick, and Megan O’Connor as the grotesquely beautiful pull-string plaything Miss Prissypants. The hair, make-up and costume of O’Connor especially all amalgamate to a horror-doll masterpiece (also excellent on Warchock and the others) and she delivers Miss Prissypants’ deadpan sound bites in a haunting and hilarious fashion. The manipulative choreography and performances by all are wonderful. Spiro makes a great stab (so to speak) at the genre, and the comedy works, but I would have liked to see, or be more scared by, an even darker exposition. But still, The Red Room calls... And you, must, go. Boo!