by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move
For the holidays, The Visceral Company has mounted a darker take on the season with its production of The Mystery Plays by Roberto Aguiree-Sacasa, a Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays 2002 award winner. Inspired by the yuletide tradition of the medieval mystery plays, also known as “miracle” plays, are two interrelated one-acts, The Filmmaker’s Mystery and Ghost Children, which wrestle with the most profound of human ideas and beliefs – but with a horrific twist.
In, The Filmmaker’s Mystery, a director of horror films visiting his family for Christmas is the sole survivor of a terrible train wreck. He is consequently tormented by a haunting and a revelation about his real role.
In, Ghost Children, which takes place in parallel time, a lawyer returns to her hometown for the first time since her brother brutally murdered their parents and younger sister. She is confronted with the real part she played in the tragedy and her relationship with her brother.
The plays were well done for the most part but would have benefitted by, just a bit more, for lack a better description, character. In both instances, the stories, although fulfilling, were displayed dryly. The stage direction is seemingly minimal, and the distinction of the shared time space of both events is muddled. It felt like standard fare and not standard for The Visceral Company which has, to date, launched some thoroughly delicious heavy-hitters including Henry James, Turn of the Screw, a theatrical version of Ira Levin’s, Veronica’s Room and this past year’s brilliant suspense thriller Southern Gothic Novel which was juicy indeed. In fact, so buoyant has been this company’s rise in the Los Angeles small theatre scene, that the slightly more down tone with this production was a surprise. In addition, there was not enough to be seen, heard or experienced of Mr. Frank Blocker (Southern Gothic Novel) who is beyond the pale, capable of putting the thrill into any thriller and whose entrances and exits, when we were treated to them, nicely anchored, notched up and ended this production with just the right tone and edge. Alas, his part in these plays was not elaborate and the audience is denied some small excitement.
There is plenty of upside, however, in this production. The stories themselves are very well-written intertwined with an unmistakeable liturgical bent as would have been the tradition with these tropes in the Middle Ages, but of course modernized to the environments of the day. The journey of both one-acts is a visit by or visit into the unknown, the unknowable, fate, destiny, what we cannot change and the decisions we make about what we can change.
Both plays are very well-paced and clearly executed by a talented cast and offer a glorious opportunity to revisit the talent of Frank Blocker. And there are highlights very worth experiencing. Actor Alex Taber is especially likable as Elliot Manning. He resonates empathy with audiences even though he is portrayed as a confused, hurt, psychotic teen killer imprisoned for life. Even as a murderer we tend to side with his point of view as opposed to his sister, played by actress Devereau Chumrau, who is cold, calculating and unforgiving. Interesting and very down to earth performances by Daniel Jimenez, Michael Mraz and Laura Julian.
The Mystery Plays
Now Playing atThe Lex Theatre 6760 Lexington Ave Hollywood, CA 90038 Friday and Saturday evenings @ 8pm Through January 5, 2014 Special Sunday Matinees on December 29 and January 5 #=@ 3pm Running time approximately 2 hours, with one 10-minute intermission Tickets: $20 Advanced tickets and info: www.thevisceralcompany.com Directed by Christopher Basile CAST: Frank Blocker Devereau Chumrau Daniel Jimenez Laura Julian Michael Mraz Alex Taber