Reviewer: Rory Leahy
Monday Apr 21, 2008
The mythic notion of babies being stolen by fairies is horrifying—and, indeed, morally deplorable—but on another level, it is also awesome. The extent to which you appreciate this may affect your enjoyment of Caryl Churchill's "Skriker," produced by GreyZelda Theatre.
Fairies, like angels, have suffered from centuries of Disney-style sanitization that has reduced them to being creatures of sweetness and cuteness, but in the words of modern mythmaker Neil Gaiman, "giggling, dangerous, bloody psychotic menace...is more like it". Rebecca Zellar's nightmarish staging, which makes good use of the intimate Angel Island space, is true to that vision and envelops the audience in it.
One of the truly great playwrights of the last half-century, Churchill has always expertly blended the mythical and the mundane; here, the titular Skriker (Lisa Wilson) is a living metaphor for death, madness and yearning. The play concerns the torments she inflicts upon two young women, Josie (Kathryn Daniels) and Lily (Kelly Yacono) and their infant children. Wilson plays the Skriker (when she is not taking on a variety of disguises) much like Linda Blair playing Robin Goodfellow by way of Gollum. The results are—unsettling.
This is a dense work, not so easy to comprehend at times, particularly due to the Skriker's bizarre but fun language patterns, in which the last word of a familiar phrase becomes the first of a new one (e.g. "gone with the window cleaner"). It is probably best read as well as seen, but seen it should be for its haunting, well realized atmosphere.
It's a satisfying meal for those who like their dark fantasy served extra dark.
And Now for Something Completely Different ....
When you’re a big talent like Caryl Churchill, the greatest danger lies in overplaying your hand—and that’s something she does here, especially in the eternity of this play’s opening moments, five minutes of expositional confusion. Of course, performance poetry has largely ruined the kind of Joycean wordplay she employs; it’s impossible not to hear that subgenre’s cadence of somewhat-clever, class-conscious expression in the titular faerie’s stream-of-consciousness inaugural monologue. But even on its own merits, Churchill’s typically challenging narrative doesn’t begin to take shape until about a half hour in, long after any audience members in their right minds would’ve stopped caring about what all the laughter-shrouded moaning might mean.
In broad outlines Churchill charts the tale of the Skriker (Wilson), a malevolent Celtic-style spirit menacing a couple of young women, perhaps in revenge for society’s vague environmental diss. There’s a genuinely creepy changeling motif on hand and some significant notes concerning the horror of fertility, but otherwise it’s all nonsense, a lot of movement and maskery in search of a purpose. Thankfully GreyZelda’s production is excellent, though Daniels as Josie should be crazier, and Wilson wastes some opportunities to humanize her inhuman role. That note notwithstanding, Wilson is still a small marvel in her embodiment of the shape-shifting villainess, delivering the goods in numerous incarnations.