A bold production of “Unwrap Your Candy”
The cast of “Baby Talk” gives a solid performance of Alice’s unnerving struggle with schizophrenia and motherhood.
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On Saturday, Oct. 22, Powder and Wig unveiled its provocative adaptation of Doug Wright’s “Unwrap Your Candy,” a show that pushed theatrical boundaries and played upon the relationship between audience and actors with its humor, drama and high dose of the surreal.
As audience members filed into the tiny Cellar Theater of Runnals, several weary-looking cast members sat facing spectators in rows of chairs as if waiting for their own theatrical production to begin. After welcoming remarks from directors Josef Broder ’13, Jack Gobillot ’14 and Yuri Min ’12, attention returned to the blasé cast members—a physician, a fashionable woman and a narcoleptic, among others—as an announcer said over a loudspeaker, “If you’ve brought any hard candies or cough drops you intend to enjoy during the performance, please unwrap them now.”
The episode that followed was a manic piece of meta-theater that was puzzling and underwhelming. Upon hearing the announcer, each of the actors would emote as the spotlight singled them out and their thoughts (pre-recorded audio) played aloud. The neurotic cast of characters, traumatized by their own anxieties and quirks regarding the start of the performance, failed to significantly physicalize the intentions of the voice-over. However, because they were forced to rely on sometimes-inconsistent audio, the actors did their best to navigate a rocky performance.
Despite the rough start, what followed was a vivid sequence of one-act performances, interspersed with vignettes, that shared haunting themes and unparalleled acting. The evening was about as post-modern as post-modern could get, and, all things considered, Powder and Wig did a fantastic job when it came to its three central pieces.
The first one-act, “Lot 13: The Bone Violin,” was directed by Gobillot and began with a shadowy judge-like figure (Brian Russo ’13) overseeing testimonials of four people, who conveyed the supernatural tale of a notably absent child violin prodigy. The young boy’s passionate mother (Kendall Hatch ’13) and father (Jeff Carpenter ’12) discussed their son’s uncanny ability to play the violin and how they supported the cultivation of his talent—that is, until the boy’s mysterious death. Along the way, a doctor (Anna Doyle ’15) researching a genetic cause for the child’s talent as well as his self-obsessed music professor (Max Hogue ’12) both try to capitalize on the child’s abilities. Carpenter and Hatch each did an incredible job capturing a parent’s love for his or her child, and Doyle and Hogue’s equally convincing performances helped create the image of a child being pulled in multiple directions.
After the child snaps under his own self-pressure, the parents tell the audience that he began to play the violin uncontrollably, locking himself in his room for weeks until one night the music finally ceased. When they recount opening the door to their son’s room, Hatch, with tears in her eyes, and Carpenter, with a solemn look on his face, tell of finding only a violin in his place—a violin, which the doctor discovers is a perfect match for the child’s DNA. Finally, the judge-like figure from the beginning of the play calls an end to the testimonials, and it becomes clear that all of the play’s characters have provided testimonials for the auctioning of the violin. In this jarring manner, both Hatch and Carpenter’s passionate emotional pleas were in stark contrast to the heavy sound of the auctioneer’s gavel announcing that the violin is for sale.
An eerie follow-up, “Wildwood Park,” directed by Broder, opens with a slick-looking Dr. Simian (Doug Newkirk ’12) approaching a real estate agent, Ms. Haviland (Rachel Hawkins ’15), for a tour of a new house on the market. They only thing: the house recently gained a flurry of media attention when its past inhabitants were brutally murdered. While Ms. Haviland was initially suspicious of Dr. Simian’s intentions for visiting the house, he subdues her concerns with crafty responses and proper credentials in order to prove that he intends to buy the house.
As Ms. Haviland shows of the house, the sly Dr. Simian begins to make unnerving requests to see the rooms as he starts to imagine how the murders took place. In his capacity to be, quite frankly, (subtly) creepy, Newkirk balanced Hawkins’ appropriately hyper-emotional flusters when defending the memory of the slain family, and both were invaluable players to the one-act’s emotional drive.
After revealing how invested she is in the murdered family (whose things she admits to cherishing), Ms. Haviland is embarrassed by her defensive behavior and assumes that she is projecting her hysteria onto the situation. But then, Dr. Simian slowly implies (à la a convincing Hannibal Lecter) that criminals often return to the scene of the crime. After coming uncomfortably close to Ms. Haviland to the point of holding her in his arms, Dr. Simian leaves behind a mind-blowing performance with a ghoulish smirk.
Directed by Min, the final one-act, “Baby Talk,” was a more humorous—albeit dark—change in the evening’s tone. The performance began when a psychiatrist (Rhiannon Ledwell ’12J) introduces her patient Alice (Allison Stitham ’12), who, along with her husband (Jeremy McAdams ’14), are ecstatic over her pregnancy. Yet there are some unusual complications: the psychologist reveals that Alice hears the child’s voice (Ryan Winter ’13) during her pregnancy, though, while on stage, Winter sat looking like a menacing street thug as he smoked a cigarette.
As Alice continued to describe the course of her pregnancy, she recounted how she could hear the child making noises that gradually turned into words, then into sentences and, ultimately, into conversation. As Ledwell pointed out the peculiarity of Alice being able to hear her child in the womb, Winter increased his humorous recitations of poetry and use of lofty vocabulary. Soon the baby becomes critical of Alice, hurtful to the point where she dreads the child’s birth and plots her revenge. In a provocative ending, the child does not speak like Alice expects, and the real tragedy comes from Alice’s mistrust for the child she now has to raise. Stitham’s realistic shock juxtaposed against McAdams’ concern for his family made the final scene chilling as Winter walked silently off stage.
“Unwrap Your Candy” was a bold and admirable choice for a Powder and Wig production. While clarity was sometimes lost in the performance, the overall effect was entertaining, haunting and ultimately thought-provoking.