ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Wallace and Valdez manage to keep from going insane by weaving elaborate fantasies and speculating as to the actual nature of the prison. How is it constructed? How many other people are being held prisoner? Is there a third prisoner in the cell between theirs? Smash has his own spiritual and psychological issues with the regular cycle of pain and torture, though he is more immune to it than he thinks. Ultimately his feeble conscience wins out, enabling a meeting for Wallace and Valdez in a completely unexpected way.
The small cast isexcellent job, especially Thomas Ward as Smash. He has just enough doubt and fear to be dangerous; any less, and he'd be a soulless automaton. His brutal physicality, full of yelling, stomping and spitting, is the perfect backdrop for his limited sort of moral exploration.
Sarah Brown's set is somewhat loftier than you'd expect for a prison, but still a fine embodiment of the endless twists and turns Wright mentions. My only quibble with the production is that it is far more concerned with the particularities of daily prison life than the subject matter would suggest. Kafka's The Castle, for instance, worked largely because there were no particularities—the lack of specificity, both made the tale more maddening and more universal because any regime/government/bureaucracy could be seen to fit. The same holds true for other existential works, like Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
The Unseen has that same maddening lack of specificity. We don't know any more about the prisoners' crimes or fates than they know. But director Lisa Denman has chosen to highlight the few details that exist in the prison—the seemingly random buzzers, the tin plates and spoons, the lighting, the pattern of stonework, the bloody work that precedes Smash's inarticulate rage. The actors, too, channel their search for detail into Wright's precise language; trapped as the characters are, the actors aren't able to explore any range of motion, other than Wallace's fiddling with random scrounged objects and Valdez's aimless wandering. This makes the play less a commentary on political prisoners and the corruption of power than a simple story of two men who have largely given up. It's a fine story, to be sure, but this production lacks the broader context the script hints at.