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Category : Reviews

08 Feb 2016

‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre by The Tolucan Times

Review: ‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre

(L to R) Matt Kirkwood, Douglas Dickerman, and Darin Singleton in “The Unseen” at The Road Theatre.NORTH HOLLYWOOD – When you book a seat at The Road Theatre, you are always guaranteed a unique experience! Their undying dedication, talented actors, and fearless vision have captivated L.A. theatre-goers for 17 years. Multi-awarded and highly revered, they consistently inspire us to laugh, cry, feel or think (and sometimes confuse you), with their unique script choices. There are simply no mindless clunkers at “The Road.”

This disturbing and chillingly involving play is no exception. Written and directed with gut-wrenchingly eerie suspense by Craig Wright, the audience was collectively transfixed in a state of awe. (Directorial assistance by Scott Alan Smith and Elizabeth Sampson.) Such an unusual and hard-hitting concept, and so difficult to explainÉ I’m gonna cheat a bit by borrowing in part from the synopsis in my press release.

“A Kafka-esque, darkly humorous examination of faith in an uncertain worldÉ A psychological thriller about two tortured prisoners, incarcerated by a totalitarian regime, with no hope for escape or release.” Unable to see each other, two men communicate through cell walls, trying to keep their sanity for nine long years, by sharing horrific stories of their captors, and trying to work out a plan of escape. Curious noises and knocks between their cells indicate a mysterious new voiceless prisoner, captive between their cells, which piques their interest and heightens their hope. The only other human contact they are privy to is with “Smash,” a sadistic and violent guard who brings them crumbs to eat and empties their barbaric toilet pots.

A deeply engrossing, grotesquely unjust journey unfolds. The trio of excellent actors portraying these multi-layered roles is superb! As two solitary strangers who must rely on each other for their sanity, Matt Kirkwood as Valdez, “a regular guy,” and Darin Singleton as Wallace, “a superior mind,” give emotionally explosive performances that will linger in your mind for a long time to come. Douglas Dickerman, as the terrifyingly twisted prison guard, is also powerfully perfect! A terrific design team captured the mood with artistic genius! Desma Murphy’s stark prison set, David B. Marling’s thunderous sound, Jeremy Pivnick’s dismally dark lighting, and the costumes of Elizabeth BrandÉ all flawless! An incredible production (though not for the faint of heart), this is a must see for L.A. theatre buffs!

I had a great weekend, theatrically speaking.

08 Feb 2016

‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre by ACCESSIBLY LIVE OFF-LINE

Review: ‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre

ACCESSIBLY LIVE OFF-LINE (Vol. 13-No. 25-Week of June 22nd, 2009)

unseen2Craig Wright’s THE UNSEEN, a bizarre tale of two prisoners locked up within their cells, and the inner conflicts they face, opens at The Road Theater Company in North Hollywood.

Set within the bowels of a very considerable and dense institution located in some linear universe, two prisoners named Valdez (Matt Kirkwood), and Wallace (Darin Singleton) and confined to their cells serving time for an unspecified offense. They cannot see each other, but can communicate by speaking from outside of their cells to where the sound of their voices carry. They have gone through a series of tortures that range from physical beatings to psychological anguish exposed by the harsh sounds of buzzers ringing out for no apparent reason. Their only human contact is their guard named Smash (Douglas Dickerman), who feeds them and empties their honey pots. Valsez and Wallace speak to one another about what is awaiting for them in the outside world while slowing breaking down their mental and tangible psyche. They ask questions about their incarceration that have no answers, while answering to their reasons of existing. All is set place within a world that is true only in their minds.

This one act play shows the ironic passion and the agony of being confined beyond one’s own reasoning or choice. Matt Kirkwood and Darin Singleton as the captives are very intense within their roles. Their characters hold their spirits high while fighting down to their finish either through physical escape or by the illusion to becoming within permanent liberty. Douglas Dickerman as the latchkey is cynically sadistic as the only soul knowing what sort of punishment would fit the prisoners’ crimes. Playwright Craig Wright directs his own piece into a stage work that holds hints of a moment that is not in the present era or set within a future that may never arrive. Although its context is some sort of large institution, Desma Murphy’s set design shows an inner frame of a prison cell (one each per “guest”) that is much more compact as they may look. The setting is dim, shedding any light only when the sentry appears.

THE UNSEEN is a rather dark and enigmatic study of the results of commuting an unknown act and its consequences within a world that is not of one’s own. The title of this play indicates there is nothing to see, but to be emotionally felt and pondered upon. It may not be at first to exist in one’s world, but to be found or “seen” in another! Perhaps one should take that notion as a threat or as a fancy.

08 Feb 2016

‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre By Les Spindle

Review: ‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre

By Les Spindle

unseen2Playwright Craig Wright (Lady, Grace) makes his directing debut with this West Coast premiere of his 2007 play. Part Samuel Beckett absurdist drama and part Franz Kakfa existentialist puzzle, this intriguing dark comedy explores the psychological traps in which we find ourselves, the ways we try to rationalize them, and the fears we face when liberation from them becomes possible. Beyond that, interpretations of this enigmatic piece will likely varyÑa critical look at religious dogma versus the innate human capacity for faith; a portrait of the evils of totalitarian rule; a speculation on mankind’s capacity for empathy. Superlative performances by Darin Singleton, Matt Kirkwood, and Douglas Dickerman enhance this quirkily engaging parable.

In an unspecified time and place, two prisoners (Singleton as Wallace and Kirkwood as Valdez) are held captive for no apparent reason and are frequently subjected to torture. Locked into near-adjoining cells but never having seen each other, the two men pass the time playing verbal games, sharing fanciful memories of trips to the ocean, trying to interpret sounds as clues to their whereabouts, and attempting to plan an escape. The agitated Wallace indulges in idiosyncratic intellectual musings, while Valdez communicates on a more down-to-earth level. When the guard (Dickerman) enters, he at first seems like a fiendish sociopath, yet he eventually confesses to the difficult time he has doing his job. In a grisly but hilarious speech, he describes his fantasies about finding ways of reducing the pain he faces when inflicting suffering on others. At last, the prisoners see a spark of hope that escape might be possible.

In the most difficult role, Singleton masters Wallace’s dizzying shifts in thought, deftly conveying the character’s blustery front and suppressed vulnerability. Kirkwood likewise gives a heart-rending portrayal, while mining his role for its rich comic undercurrents. Dickerman earns the biggest laughs in his forceful portrayal of an imposing thug with a surprising soft spot.

Desma Murphy’s scenic design, Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting, Elizabeth Brand’s costumes, and David B. Marling’s sound provide a perfectly chilling ambiance for Wright’s first-rate production of his thought-provoking work.

08 Feb 2016

‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre

Review: ‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre

By Sharon Perlmutter

unseen2After seeing Craig Wright’s The Unseen, I don’t want to write a review; I’d rather write an essay. There’s so much thought-provoking content in this short one-act, it invites days of pondering, discussion, and analysis.

On the surface, you’ve got a timely play about imprisonment and tortureÑand a lesson about what it does to the torturer. Because, while the bulk of the play is about two men, Valdez and Wallace, imprisoned and tortured for reasons they do not know, the real dramatic action comes from their brutal guard (whom they call “Smash”) and his frustration over the fact that, despite his best efforts, he can’t stop seeing his victims as human. It’s impossible to watch The Unseen without words like “Guantanamo” and “Abu Ghraib” coming to mind, and wondering if the “Unseen” of the title refers to our own failure to see that those we used “enhanced interrogation techniques” against are still people, and what seeing this fact would actually mean.

But that’s just the surface. The “Unseen” of The Unseen can easily refer to half a dozen other concepts. There is much that Valdez and Wallace cannot see from their individual cells. Take something as simple as what the rest of the prison looks like. Wallace, the more intellectual of the two (he calls Valdez “Mr. Valdez,” not out of deference, but in the way a professor speaks to his students), looks at the facts he knows-the cell he has seen, the ever-present noises of the prison, and the few snippets of conversation he has heard when being tortured-and infers that what he does not see must be more of the same of what he can see. Valdez, who is governed more by what he “feels” to be true, imagines that what he cannot see is beautifully different from what he can. And yet, neither Wallace’s rational deductions nor Valdez’s gut reactions are pure-they’re both poisoned by each man’s desperate hope that the unseen will actually be what he needs it to be. We’re not talking about two guys in prison anymore. We’re talking how people make assumptions about what they can’t see-whether it’s news from foreign lands, people we do not know, or a Supreme Being. Do we get the right answer by reasoning from what we know? Are some things incapable of rational proof and only knowable by faith? Or is the attempt to know always doomed to failure as we will always infect our conclusions about the unseen with what we want it to be?

Is the unseen even there? Valdez and Wallace are in two different cells. They think they’re conversing with each other, keeping each other sane, speaking to someone they can trust. But does the other man even exist? Or is he just a construct in one man’s head-thought to be staving off lunacy but, in reality, a manifestation of it?

Even Smash, who is clearly an intellectual lightweight, finds himself in socratic dialogue with Wallace. Because for Smash, the breaking point is that his victims have eyes; the fact that he can see his victims’ suffering in their eyes threatens to tear his universe apart. Can he, Smash wonders, eliminate his own sense of guilt if he can continue to commit gruesome acts unseen by his victims?

And there is also a beauty in the unseen. Valdez and Wallace spend time playing the “I went to the ocean and I brought…” game, where each person adds to the list an item starting with the next letter of the alphabet. When the show begins, Wallace has just been returned to his cell from a torture session, and Valdez prompts him to run through the list where it stands-they’re currently up to the letter “X.” As Wallace runs through the A – W items, much is illuminated. (For one thing, it’s very clear that Wallace has the better imagination and facility with language. For every straightforward “Apple” that Valdez put on the list, Wallace added a graceful “Beam of light.”) But the 23 items rattled off illustrate, with an elegant simplicity, how very much is unseen by men incarcerated for so many years-how much a man with only a bucket, a spoon, a cup and a bowl can grow to desire a juicy red apple; or how much a man deprived of the sun for nearly a decade can cherish the thought of a beam of natural light shining through a window. There are detailed descriptions for some items in the list, and we can easily imagine how the men must have painted visual memories for each other while playing this game, and how they hunger for the things that have remained unseen by them for so long. It’s brilliant writing, and it very nearly sums up the toll of nine years of imprisonment in a 23 item list.

There’s exceptional acting all around by the three-person cast. Darin Singleton is a splendid Wallace, whose substantial physical pain can be no match for his mental suffering. Matt Kirkwood hits all the right notes as the gentle, still optimistic Valdez. And while Douglas Dickerman at first seems a little too loud as the over-angry Smash, the contrast ultimately makes his late-play soft-spoken monologue absolutely can’t-look-away captivating.

It must be pointed out that, with all of these snippets of gorgeous dialogue and philosophical issues, the play is missing something in the way of dramatic tension. Valdez and Wallace have been at the prison for so long that their torture has become routine-they’re not even questioned anymore. There’s no chance things will ever change; no issue of trying to keep information from their interrogator; no real plot to engage the audience. If it weren’t for the disconcerting prison buzzers (nicely done by sound designer David B. Marling), there would be nothing to keep the audience on edge during the proceedings. Playwright Wright makes his directorial debut with this production, and he does a fine job staging a verbal interaction between two men in separate rooms (with minimal props for them to play with)-this can’t be easy. The play itself earns high marks for provoking subsequent thought and discussion; if it were only a bit more engaging in the theatre itself, it could be a tremendous work.

08 Feb 2016

‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre

Review: ‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre

By F. Kathleen Foley

unseen2Craig Wright’s “The Unseen” at the Road Theatre is punctuated by ear-splitting clangs and metallic screeches — courtesy of David B. Marling’s superb sound design — that wear on one’s nerves within minutes.

For Valdez and Wallace (Matt Kirkwood and Darin Singleton, both excellent), those sounds have been a continuous torment for years on end. Imprisoned for unspecified reasons by some unnamed, possibly futuristic totalitarian regime, the two are routinely dragged out of their cells for questioning and torture. But there’s no appeasing their mysterious captors, who seem more intent on dehumanization than information.

There are no family portraits or personal artifacts to relieve the bleakness of Desma Murphy’s stark prison set, glaringly lighted by Jeremy Pivnick. Other than nerve-racking visits by their brutish guard (Douglas Dickerman, in a hilarious, harrowing turn), the only stimulus available to the brainy Wallace and the deceptively slow-witted Valdez is conversation, their sole hedge against insanity.

But what a powerful hedge it is. Wright, who also directs, is a prolific playwright as well as a television producer and the creator of “Dirty Sexy Money.” A versatile craftsman, Wright has become known for his intimate exegeses of male/female relationships. “Unseen” may seem a radical departure, but Wallace and Valdez share a bond more intimate than any lovers’. Granted, Wright’s dystopian dialectic sometimes veers into the self-conscious. But the human imperative for connection, however forced or flawed, imparts this harrowing tale of paranoia, fear and mindless oppression with real meaning. We wallow in Valdez and Wallace’s pain but to a purpose.