I walked out of a muggy evening and into the surprisingly air-conditioned Mercury Theater to see the show In Threes, produced by Feral Women, a new theater company/proprietor of cool, out of the box type performance art. I had never heard of Feral Women and per usual, I took this opportunity to see some new shit. Anytime a theater company curtain speech includes an appeal for hammers and money, you know they are hungry. In Threes was directed and adapted by Ren Pepitone from the 2002 novel The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams. I will say right off the bat that if you come to see this show, empty your bladder beforehand. The 2 hour show doesn’t have an intermission. The theater space is narrow with audience on both sides. If you are someone who has a weak bladder and often goes during shows, make sure you sit on the side by the back stairs. You’ll thank me later.
The play mostly centered around three teen girls Annabel (Madison Coan), Corvus (Sarah Lamar) and Alice (Dana Woodson) as they wrestle with identity, recent losses of both Annabel and Corvus’ mothers, and life. This was not a light-hearted teen movie folks. Annabel’s father Carter (Scott Burke) and her haunting mother Ginger (Katharine Vary) argue in the background. A slimy older friend of the family, Sherwin (Jacob Zabawa), enters and fascinates Alice. Shoe salesman Ray Webb (Jacob Zabawa) goes on a reckless journey and interacts with the three teen girls along the way. Little girl Emily Pickless (Katharine Vary), her mother (Jacob Zabawa), and her mother’s asshole boyfriend John Crimmins (Scott Burke) make an interesting tableau appearance. Rounding out the characters is Candleman, a nursing home employee Nurse Daisy and Mail lady all played by Conor Kizer.
Let’s cut to the chase, In Threes plot was a little disjointed. The scenes were loosely connected and the storylines and characters weaved past each other. I was unsure of the intention of the play. It takes a certain kind of theater patron to appreciate this style of work. I dug it, sort of. I think part of the problem was the script. In Threes script had so many words. So many words! As an audience member the words got overwhelming at times. The words were thick with emotion and meaning, but I found myself drowning in them and not being rescued by them. The story was sometimes convoluted with the amount of dialogue specifically the large number of monologues. The script could use a strong editorial hand, but it still had flow and progression despite itself. An actor spoke the line “Words are just noise” and after 2 hours of sitting on my ass the script was on the verge of becoming just that.
All of the words were just fodder for the excellent performances by the cast. Sarah Lamar as Corvus was unnervingly good. Corvus was detached from reality and could have come off cold with another actor playing her. But Lamar played her with alarming calmness and etherealness. Madison Coan (Annabel) was full of this quiet fire. She used all of the emotional levels in her performance and glowed with innocence and confusion. Dana Woodson’s character Alice was the stable force that connected everyone in the play. She was headstrong and knew what she was fighting against, even if she didn’t always know herself. Woodson portrayed Alice well with strength, a dash of sweetness and pinch of awkwardness. The rest of the ensemble meandered between different minor characters. Katharine Vary and Jacob Zabawa were the most successfully in their portrayals. Zabawa effortlessly transformed into each character moving from slimy ladies man, to coquettish mother and an impulsive adventurer. Each character was distinct and Zabawa acted with the full range of body and voice. What the hell else can you ask from an Actor? Katharine Vary was evilly delightful as Ginger. She was such a socialite bitch and I loved it! There was so much power behind her performance and I was hanging on every word Vary said. As Emily, a precocious little girl with an old soul, Vary was spunky, innocent and endearing.
I really enjoyed the movement work in the play. It was sparse yet effective and I wish there was more of it. It was angular and fluid. Yes, those are somewhat opposites, but it worked. What was the purpose? I have no idea but I thought it was cool especially with the lighting. It was especially striking to see the physical emotional break of Corvus (Lamar) midway through the piece. Good work choreographer Madison Coan (I see you pulling double duty). Set design by Frederick Gerriets and Maura Dwyer was well articulated and simple. The set consisted of a painted desert motif, a large bench, a small bar, and a door frame on wheels. The use of space was very creative in order to transport the audience to different landscapes. I wished the set piece movements were limited. It broke up the action and I paid more attention to the moving set then I would have liked. Sound design/original music by Rjyan Kidwell was eerie and underscored the action nicely. Costumes by Sarah Jacklin were no-frills, functional and easy to change in and out of if you played multiple characters. Lastly, Emily Hall kept the lighting sometimes soft, sometimes harsh, sometimes cool but always well focused. It was most striking during the intimate scenes between two actors. Overall In Threes was a perplexing, intriguing, yet creative piece of theater. I still have no idea what it was about, but that’s kind of the point I think.
Should I stay or should I go? Go support new, original works! Baltimore is a creative town with creative people doing creative things. Will you always understand it? No. Should that stop you from stepping outside of your comfort zone? Hell No! Although In Threes may benefit from a few editorial and directorial tweaks, it was a compelling piece of theater with emotional performances. I enjoy theater that makes you work for it. You have to find the theme (I think it was Death in In Threes?) and train your own brain synapses to make connections. Nobody likes a lazy theater patron. Man/Woman/They the fuck up and dive into the creative mind of Ren Pepitone and Joy Williams. The vigil awaits you. (I)
Now through August 12th at Mercury Theater. Running time: 2 hours with no intermission