Twenty-two years ago, Caryl Churchill wrote a spell of a play that has become more potent with age. The Skriker gives form to Mother Earth's ancient spirits, who are furious because they are dying along with Her. Humans are to blame and must be punished, but humans are also necessary to restore balance.
Third Rail Repertory Theatre's Mentorship Company ambitiously took on the wicked wordplay and theatrical magic of this pagan-apocalyptic drama, but Churchill's spell doesn't hold.
We begin in the dark with a poetic prologue from the Skriker, an ancient, malevolent faerie. Sarah Yeakel manages the monster's monologue breathlessly as she slowly descends the center aisle, her intimidating form robed in mountainous layers of black fabric. The purple lights finally catch her tangled hair and red-rimmed eyes as the Skriker's tirade continues onstage, where stained plastic sheets hang and a hospital bed sits empty.
The plot kicks off with teen mom Josie on the bed, in a very bad place after having murdered her own baby. This fact is overshadowed by the freakier presence of the Skriker, who is coercing her to resurrect and surrender the child. Also, there is a stoic shirtless dude with a sculpted mesh horse head hovering by Josie's side. We can infer from the program that he is Kelpie, a dangerous Celtic water sprite, according to a quick wiki search.
The ensemble of ambiguous, dark creatures lurk around the stage, shrieking and snarling. Their big scene is the underworld banquet party, where the script suggests a captive possessing no entrails might be humiliated. Here, it is more like a dull college party with sloppy dancers, repetitive music and strobe lights that will induce a headache.
The entire production is darkly lit, a purple gloom that lighting designer Anthony Arnista punctures with flashlights, glow lights, backlights, black lights and strobe lights. The effects are either blinding, irritating or underwhelming, as is the case with Kensie Sempert's props. A mobile hangs in the downstage corner, casting blurry shadows from the disembodied hands, feet and head of a hag. An intriguing hound puppet makes a brief appearance, then is set down onstage to die inanimate. The hooded death figure that looks like a discount Halloween decoration leans against the balcony rail and is completely ignored.
It is a daunting play, to be sure, and in this production from Third Rail's mentees, it's unclear what we are meant to see moving in their shadows. JESS DRAKE.
see it: The Skriker is at Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th Ave., 503-235-1101. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturday, through July 2. $11.50.