Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
By Laura Hitchcock
"It's MAAA-" hisses The Skriker, drawing our the first syllable out. She could be heading towards mad but her word ends in magic and, in English playwright Caryl Churchill's furious prophecy of the devastation of the planet, The Skriker, a shape-shifting minor earth spirit becomes a very bad fairy indeed. Now damaged as the earth, she heads a bevy of creatures from folk lore: bogies, warped brownies, kelpies, and entities with such descriptive names as Rawheadandbloodybones and Annie Greenteeth.They inhabit the tiny stage of Santa Monica's City Garage Theatre, in a nearly pitch-perfect production directed by Frederique Michel.
The text is basically a three-hander in which The Skriker stalks two sisters, the brilliant and half-mad Josie, whom we first meet in a hospital apparently suffering from a psychotic breakdown and the death, perhaps murder, of her baby; and the pregnant Lily, pretty and normal
. The Skriker wants a baby and tries to worm her way into Lily's life in many forms -- from an old woman asking for pity, to a needy child asking for mothering, to a handsome young man asking for sex and a mate. Churchill, famous for her depictions of the roles society forces on women, hangs them all on The Skriker. Eventually, both Josie and Lily are separately seduced into visiting the Underworld where The Skriker promises them their hearts' desires.
The play contains some of Churchill's most evocative language. The Skriker's James Joycean monologues sound as if she's picking up humanity's language on warped airwaves in which one phrase breaks into the stream-of-subconsciousness of another as when she screeches "Electric stormy petrel bomb. Revengeance is gold mine, sweet."
Churchill's outrage is directed at heedless greed and the rape of the natural world. Her bleak thesis is compressed into a Skriker speech as mournfully pure as blank verse among the gorgeous imagery of her monologues: "It was always possible to think whatever your personal problem, there's always nature. Spring will return even if it's without me. Nobody loves me but at least it's a sunny day. This has been a comfort to people as long as they've existed. But it's not available any more. Sorry. Nobody loves me and the sun's going to kill me. Spring will return and nothing will grow."
Despite budget restrictions, Michel manages to present a vivid sense of the Underworld through costume, production and lighting design. The small set uses multi-levels, fish nets and twigs. The creatures crawl, wear long-nosed animal heads and, though always present, are never ostentations.
Jody Moschetti is smart and mean as Josie and Cynthia Mance makes Lily helplessly nice. Ilana Gustafson is terrifying and pathetic as The Skriker, though more of the pathetic side as demonstrated in the death of nature speech above would have made her even more piercing. Leaving the theatre, you wonder how Caryl Churchill would have personified mad cow disease and the hole in the ozone layer.