In its latest play GW student group Forbidden Planet Productions takes on an elaborate story that even professional production companies would have a hard time telling. The group manages to paint a clear picture of the British play “The Skriker” without confusing even the least-versed audience.
While playgoers may want to brush up on the plot before seeing the play, which debuts this weekend in Hand Chapel at the Mount Vernon Campus, newcomers to the material are not left in the dark. Thanks to strong performances throughout the cast, most notably from lead actress Annie Leibovitz, “The Skriker” is a resounding success.
The 90-minute play, which has no intermission, was written by the British playwright Caryl Churchill and released in 1994. It is an amalgam of reality and fantasy in which the lines between the two are blurred to the point that it is hard to distinguish where one ends and the other begins.
The three main characters, the only ones who say more than a few lines, include two sisters, Josie (Sofiya Goldshetyn) and Lily (Leigh-Erin Balmer), and the Skriker (Annie Kramlinger). The Skriker is a shape-shifting spirit from the underworld who has come to wreak havoc on these two girls.
The Skriker’s underworld brethren include old-English fairytale characters Johnny Squarefoot, a giant who throws stones while riding a pig-like man, and Rawheadandbloodybones, a grotesque figure on stilts that would fit in a Mardi Gras celebration. The characters strut around onstage throughout the play costumed to fit their descriptions.
The Skriker is the main attraction. When viewers first meet Josie, the Skriker has already tricked her into killing her baby. Josie thought her baby was actually a “changeling,” a decoy baby placed in the crib by supernatural creatures, and sits in a mental hospital as the play begins. Soon, Josie’s sister Lily is turned upside down by the Skriker when the Skriker turns its attention to her. The Skriker grants Lily wishes but continues to make itself known in various forms, tracking down the sisters in London and causing their perceptions of reality to spin out of control.
Mixed in with outlandish fairytale characters are everyday people, including a businessman and a girl with headphones on, who walk or dance across the stage in their own world, oblivious to the creatures rising to Earth from below.
The play makes the point that modern commoners are too skeptical and wrapped up in their own affairs to believe in anything other than what drives them. They simply cannot see what is plainly in front of them. In today’s world there seems to be no room for the legends of old, hence the Skriker’s anger and need for revenge on mankind.
The metaphorical blindness of the stock characters to the spirit world suggests a lack of reflection on the place of modern humanity in nature. Churchill seems to tell his audience that they are slaves to their own inventions. A wonderful scene between Lily and the Skriker involves the ancient creature, in the form of an old woman, asking Lily how a television works. Of course, Lily does not really know.
Director Jennifer Stewart uses limited space very well to project the eerie effect of the various creatures. The production hired its own disc jockey for the performance.
Sofiya Goldshetyn and Leigh-Erin Balmer are both excellent in their roles as Josie and Lily, respectively. Kramlinger deserves special mention for her inspiring portrayal of the Skriker. With fiercely poetic monologues that last for minutes on end, she does not miss a beat in this juicy, venomous role that a lesser actor could bungle.
Although “The Skriker” may be bewildering at times, it does offer meaning to those who pay attention. Forbidden Planet does a commendable job taking on such challenging material and turning out such a good production.
“The Skriker” plays at Hand Chapel on the Mount Vernon Campus Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. A pre-show event begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5.