Review: “The Skriker” Takes You On A Disturbing Journey

Published by on November 1st, 2012

Underworld Feast in The Skriker – (Left to right) Esmé De Coster, Sruti Desai, Christian Swenson, Mariel Neto and Mary Ewald as The Skriker
Photo by Paul Joseph Brown ©2012

Review:  “The Skriker” by Caryl Churchill. Produced by Janice Findley Productions. Directed by Janice Findley. Choreographed by Pat Graney. With Mary Ewald, Jessica Martin, Mariel Neto, Cathy Sutherland, Christian Swenson, Sruti Desai, Esmé De Coster, Amelia Reeber, and Aaron Schwartzman. Now through November 11, 2012 at the Erickson Theater.

The Hive Mentality is interesting, isn’t it? It happens quite frequently, actually, and especially in the arts and entertainment world. How many movies were there a few years back about asteroids hitting the earth, or Truman Capote, or gorgeous Hollywood actors pretending to be farmers?

It also seems to happen on a local level as well. Currently on Seattle stages we have three different productions that all deal with folklore, magic and the unseen world of gods, monsters, fairies and their ilk and while all three productions have their unique charms, all three of them struggle in varying degrees to present their respective worlds of magic and myth. Two of these shows I can recommend, but there’s one I cannot…

I’ll start on a positive note with a production I CAN recommend from director Janice Findley and choreographer Pat Graney, the currently running “The Skriker” by Caryl Churchill, the acclaimed British playwright probably best known in the United States for “Cloud Nine” and “Top Girls”. And, like much of Ms Churchill’s work, “The Skriker” isn’t afraid to deal with inventive word play and the creation of a fanciful world of her own invention. “The Skriker” is named after the principal character of the play, an ancient fairy and shape shifter capable of taking on many forms both human and not. The Skriker is very old and very cunning and apparently inhabits the world of the living  in an effort to latch onto mortal souls that are valuable currency in the Underworld of the fairies. The Skriker has currently latched onto two British girls, Josie and her pregnant best friend Lily with high hopes of ensnaring both girls and Lily’s soon to be born baby. Utilizing her shape shifting abilities and the enticement of wishes that always come with a price, the Skriker lures her way into both girls’ lives with some shocking results.

“The Skriker” is not a traditional play. It involves long monologues from the Skriker given in a melodic stream of words and phrases that are part James Joyce and part Gollum from Lord of the Rings. There are three primary characters in “The Skriker” but there are also a number of non-speaking beings as well, a vast array of odd people, animals and creatures who are carefully choreographed to occupy all frames of the stage canvas. These characters are almost always present on stage in different forms and configurations and while at times they can distract, they all add a rich layer of texture and mystery to the primary plot enacted by the three principals. (And, all six dancers in these roles are exceptionally good at portraying these various odd and sundry characters some of which look like they wandered in from a particularly bizarre Monty Python sketch…)

“The Skriker” is quite obviously not a main stream cup of tea for theater goers. It’s very odd, a bit perverse and its non-linear story line will not appeal to many traditional or conservative audiences…which is probably one of the reasons why I enjoyed this production…it’s not “dumb” theater where everything is spelled out for you in clear easy to digest chunks of dialogue and plot. Ms Churchill has created a fascinating world of fairies and mortals and their interactions, and deals with a huge variety of topics including post-partum depression, motherhood, mental illness, greed, despair, and the plight of young women in the world. It’s a haunting piece of work and it resonates with you for a long time after seeing it. It’s also creepy and weird as hell and something you’re unlikely to see on one of the big stages in Seattle.

This production is also aided by solid work from the entire team. While some of the transitions between scenes in the play are a bit clunky, largely the result of a few cumbersome set pieces, the direction by Janice Findley and the choreography of Pat Graney superbly unite to create a richly textured and subtly layered piece of theater. The innovative costumes of Eve Cohen and the lighting and set design of Amiya Brown also add to the air of fevered dreaminess. I also admired the sound design and original music from Paul Hansen, but would also note that the production might have used MORE sound/music to cover some of the louder/longer transitions between scenes.

Both young actresses playing Josie and Lily, Mariel Neto and Jessica Martin, are quite good in their roles, portraying both the bravado and the fear so common to the young. And, it should also be noted that both actresses had convincing regional British accents, (Manchester, perhaps?)

However, the highlight of this production is undoubtedly Mary Ewald as The Skriker. Ms Ewald has already given one terrific performance in Seattle this year in Beckett’s “Happy Days” at the New City Theater…she just added her second bravura performance with her work in “The Skriker”. It’s not an easy role as it includes very long, complicated monologues full of tongue tripping word play, not to mention the ability to morph from old lady to school girl to businessman and even at one point, to a COUCH! Ms Ewald handles all of the demands of the role with great grace and precise choices, both vocally and physically. It’s one of my favorite performances all year.

So, it’s a thumbs up for “The Skriker” with the disclaimer that it’s obviously not going to appeal to everyone. If you’re looking for spooky slickness and pablum level music, go see “Wicked”. If you like spooky, thought provoking and challenging theater that incorporates modern dance and non-linear storytelling, then you’re probably better off making a date with the Skriker.

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