Review: ‘The Unseen’ at the Road Theatre
Playwright 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.