Labeled a “cinematic theatrical performance,” this initially interesting but ultimately highly problematic play juggles film and live action, present and past, and “reality” and fiction. A failure of coherent storytelling makes a jumble of it all, but some pleasures stand out amid the confusion.
The first pleasure comes from the two central performances. Osa Wallander and Rachelle Guiragossian have a lot of intense fun with their roles as twentysomething sisters living together in a modest house in a modest factory town in the 1950s. It turns out they have a creepy past, and the future creeps in too, but what’s most interesting about the sisters is their resemblance to stereotypical 1950s sitcom characters.
Or are they?
Ms. Guiragossian is Olivia, the hyped-up younger sister, a fast-talking dynamo of insecurity anxiously awaiting the arrival of the household’s first television; Ms. Wallander is the cooler-headed, more reality-focused Dylan. But the sisters spend only part of the time on stage; their live scenes alternate with artsy black-and-white video, often directly related to the confusing plot, at other times establishing the happy-homemaker milieu of the time, and sometimes showing what’s actually on TV (I Married Joan, home-appliance ballet, and so forth). By turns ironic and suspenseful, these projected videos are the other main pleasure of the evening.
If only the story held together. What really happened to the girls’ father when they were children? Is the jealous husband of Dylan’s illicit lover a real threat? How real are these characters anyway? And why is Olivia’s flame Walter (Ryan Colwell of the excellent Toy Box Theatre Company) so silent and distracted?
By the time we learn the answer to that last question, we’ve had to give up on the story. The play turns out to be a metafiction, and given that fact, we might tolerate a lot of inconsistencies. But playwright Bryan Santiago sacrifices focus in favor of concept. Keeping both up might have been possible, but it didn’t happen here.
Fortunately we have the bang-up performances of the two leads and the eerie video action to occupy our minds at least part of the time. As a time-shifting commentary and drama, this is no Pleasantville, but we can appreciate some of the effort.
Someone’s Trying to Kill Me runs at HERE through Dec. 4.