Entertainment » Theatre

Dark Room

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Aug 13, 2018
Celeste Oliva and Jade Wheeler in 'Dark Room'
Celeste Oliva and Jade Wheeler in 'Dark Room'  (Source:Bridge Repertory Theater)

The eerie and beautiful "Dark Room," by George Brant, is "inspired by the life, death, and photography of Francesca Woodman," the world premiere production's program tells us. Prolific and gone too soon, a victim of suicide at the age of 22, Woodman's work focused on women, featuring herself as well as models.

This play also features on Woodman, and on issues of femininity - experience, emotion, legacy, memory, and ancestry - all figure large in the play's 11 segments, which are presented as fragments of a life that might never combine seamlessly into a whole. The cast comprises 22 Boston area actors, all brought together by director Olivia D'Ambrosio (who also stepped in to play one character on the night I attended). The characters represent different combinations of female association; there are two or three lesbian couples depicted, at various points in their relationships, as well as relationships that follow mentor/mentee lines; there's a humorous bit in which three women chat companionably from the confines of their separate coffins; in a poignant passage a bereaved mother offers a monologue about her daughter's death; and, toward the play's end, there's a metaphysical pairing that might represent a couple of angels.

The play takes place within the confines of a large performance space at the Cambridge Multicultural Center, where Bridge Repertory Theater is in residence, and the space works well for the play's themes and moods. Stephen Petrilli's lighting design challenges the eye and allows a sense of morality to inhabit the shadows that edge, and sometimes fill, the space; Elizabeth Cahill's sound design and compositions change the emotional perspective in much the same way as one might hold out one of Woodman's photos, turning it this way and that, or bring it closer to the eye to examine details.

In the end, though, it comes back to a question of just how this all comes together. The play's various episodes are witnessed and, in a sense, threaded tougher by a single character, "The girl in the polka dot dress" (Jenna Pollack), who we might, at first, think represents the shade of Woodman herself. Only, this story, if it belongs to her, doesn't quite seem to fit; the girl wends through its various precincts, but does so backwards, or in a manner that suggests time and causation come unhinged. One thing does not necessarily follow another, but all these elements cast shades of meaning, sometimes uneasy meaning, on all the rest. David Lynch would approve.

It does all come together, does it not? Or does it? We can ask that of art, and we often do so because life - any given life, or life in general, which art often putatively emulates and illuminates - so rarely does. The play looks that very question in the eye and offers it back to us in a scene, portrayed not unlike a dance, in which the cast comes together to assemble a large round medallion (altar? Sacred spot?) from fragments scattered across the space, fragments that have served various purposes throughout the play. If assembled, do these pieces tell us more in sum than they did on their own? Brand, D'Ambrosio, and the cast seem skeptical, pulling the pieces apart again right away. These irregular shards, varied in size and suggestive of so many other shapes, possess a potency on their own that demands attention and shrugs aside questions of a larger design. That design might be there, but it's the details where the play wrestles with its devils and mediates on redemption.

"Dark Room" continues through August 16 at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center. For tickets and more information please go to http://www.bridgerep.org/

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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