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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
The Unseen, in its West Coast premiere at the Road Theatre, is a semi-political meditation on solitude, trust and breaking points. Directed by the playwright, the Road production is a 70 minute psychological horror-fest full of slop buckets, darkness and blaring alarms. Disappointing if never dull, the play feels more akin to a five finger exercise than a symphony. This is to take nothing away from the work turned in by Matt Kirkwood and Darin Singleton as a pair of prisoners talking through walls at each other between their torture session, or that of Douglas Dickerman as the guard who both makes their lives hell and purports to feel their pain.
These characters are not especially well-defined; basically they exist as symbols. Nonetheless, it's an engaging and claustrophobic dance that Kirkwood and Singleton manage to pull off here. We're to understand that Wallace (Singleton) and Valdez (Kirkwood) have been in this hole upwards of nine years. Their cells are within shouting distance, yet the two men have never set eyes on each other. They pass the non-torture hours with an alphabet game and by working their way through existential conundrums. We don't know why these men have been imprisoned or what information their captors are seeking; only that both men would by now happily spill their guts if it meant that the horror would cease. Angry beeps and buzzers cut through their every discussion.
Set designer Desma Murphy has placed the two prisoners on a pair of metallic outcroppings, no beds, only a chamber pot. Wallace is the more intellectual of the two, and he's closer to cracking. On this day, he is hungrily and obsessively rearranging his plate, spoon, and tray, and has reached the concluded that escape is imminent. Valdez's attentions have been taken up by the Morse code-like tapping of a new prisoner in an adjacent cell who &mdash Valdez insists &mdash has an important message to impart and is female. Periodically intruding is the guard Smash who is steamed that a double shift of torture means he'll miss the birthday party he has planned for himself. Smash, who arrives with muck covered boots and, later a blood spattered white jump suit, can not abide the realization that there is pain in the world ... and that he causes it. His too vivid description of a prisoner's murder is the stuff of splatter movies.
Something does finally happen in The Unseen at which point we get to see whether Wallace and Valdez can take an important step toward creating a new, better system of order than the one in which they've been trapped. Still, it's a rather unpleasant path to this quiet conclusion. If Wallace and Valdez's unspecified hell is supposed to be universal, at least let's give these men —and their plight— more of a face.