Friday, April 13, 2018

"The Skriker" by Fortune's Fool Theatre at the Crane Theater

A dark fairy pursues two teenage mothers in Caryl Churchill's The Skriker, receiving a rare production thanks to Fortune's Fool Theatre. It's an ambitious undertaking, with a huge cast of 17, fantastical elements, and complicated often nonsensical dialogue. While I have to admit that the play is a little too weird for my taste, I can recognize the talent, artistry, and hard work that has gone into making this unique and striking piece of art.

Lily and Josie are friends with something in common. Lily is very pregnant, and Josie has just given birth to a baby that she killed, for which she has been hospitalized. They are both visited by the Skriker, a fairy from another realm, possibly representing Mother Earth herself. She isn't happy, and she torments the two girls, taking various shapes to worm her way into their lives. They alternately fight to keep her and want to give her away to the other. Lily eventually gives birth, Josie gets out of the hospital, but their relationship is complicated by their circumstances and this dark shadow that haunts their lives.

Or at least that's as near as I could glean what happens in the play. I think it's also a metaphor for climate change and the way humans have and continue to damage the earth. But it's not entirely clear. When the Skriker speaks as herself, not in Lily and Josie's world, she speaks a sort of nonsensical poetry, which like most poetry, I had a hard time understanding. But maybe we're not supposed to understand it. And even if I didn't know what she was saying, Ariel Leaf certainly made us believe that she knew what she was saying and believed it whole-heartedly. She gives a fierce and confident performance, leading this strong cast, many of whom just sort of wander on the periphery doing their own thing, but again, with total conviction. The two women who play Lily and Josie, Haley Sisler and Gabrielle Dominique, are also excellent. Their portrayals are believable and empathetic, the two normal characters to cling to in the sea of fantasy.

Haley Sisler, Gabrielle Dominique,
and Ariel Leaf
(photo courtesy of Fortune's Fool)
The design of the show is fantastical and creepy, with that stretch wrap used for packing creating a look like cobwebs. Besides Lily and Josie, the rest of the cast is dressed in fantastical outfits that are specific to each character, with wild hair and makeup (set design by Seán McArdle, costume design by Tracy Swenson, makeup design by Ariel Leaf). Adding to the other-worldliness of the proceedings is composer/music director Keith Hovis' hauting and atmospheric music.

There was another play happening at the Crane the night I saw the show, Theatre Unbound and Raw Sugar's WTF (women/trans/femme) playwright workshop, and because construction is not yet complete on the studio theater, the sound does unfortunately carry between the two spaces. At times this worked with The Skriker, because there are supposed to be weird sound effects coming from all sides, so it almost felt like part of the crazy atmosphere of the play (especially the sounds of an actual baby in the lobby when Lily was comforting her baby). But at times it became too much, at least for a person sensitive to over-stimulation.

The Skriker is an ambitions undertaking for this small theater company, and they really pulled it off with a committed cast and super creepy design. It's a bit much for me, but if you're looking for something weird and artistic and not your typical night at the theater, this might just hit the spot (continuing at the Crane in Northeast Minneapolis through April 22).