The Skriker

by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 28, 2016

When you go to see "The Skriker" -- and I suggest that you do -- don't sit in the top row, and don't go alone.

"The Skriker" at Third Rail Rep is an unleashed exploration into madness, an inside, immersive look at what it's like to be gripped with paranoia, stalked by spirits with evil intent, or teetering somewhere between magic and mental illness. "The Skriker" makes no claims about reality vs. perception, only presenting the story as complete and factual, but the line is intentionally blurred.

The play opens in the dark, with a character loping around the back of the audience making pig-like noises, lit only by a headlamp. It gallops onto the stage where a lone figure emerges from the dark and delivers a lengthy soliloquy combining gibberish, rhyme, warnings, and invitations, conveying a dark plot for exacting revenge. Playing on singsong spells and nursery rhymes, the confounding text makes a sort of sense, when heard as a whole, peaks and valleys expressing intent.

A young woman, Josie, suffering from confinement in a mental ward, is visited by Lily, who is pregnant. Josie indicates she did what she did, which appears to have been killing her baby, because she had to. Her language slips in and out of "normalcy," and neither Lily nor the audience know for sure what to think. When Lily leaves, Josie is visited by the Skriker, who is clearly responsible for Josie's torment. The Skriker grants Josie's wish to have the Skriker pursue Lily instead.

And so back and forth, the two are pursued by the Skriker, and attempt everything they know to satisfy the Skriker's demands. The Skriker is alternately human-appearing and wraith-like, always manic and greedy, luring the two with a combination of wheedling and hypnosis, enchanting them into complying with her demands.

Some explorations of madness prefer the external view of the experience, observing with pity the person losing their grip on reality. "The Skriker" is saturated with dreamlike surrealism, frightening in its nightmare quality and in its overwhelming physicality. The play boasts a cast of ten total actors, some playing multiple roles; only three actors speak lines.

The other seven parade as mystical, misshapen, threatening characters; a man with a horse head, a person built to resemble a human tree, an unidentifiable beast with a beak/horn. These creatures participate in a Bacchanalian feast in the underworld with the Skriker, the collective effort to lure Josie to their den of ruin.

The Skriker itself is played in a tour de force performance by Sarah Yeakel, whose dialogue is so confounding I cannot imagine how she kept it all straight. She portrayed the charismatic lunacy with great abandon, and I found myself thinking of the same physical mania in Molly Shannon from SNL, only quite over the edge. Yeakel was captivating and terrifying.

Caitlin Lushington played Josie, a whip of a girl itching to get out of her skin. She played fear and anxiety and confusion with high energy. Madeline Shier was Lily, either Josie's friend or her sister, and her appearance was calming and motherly, a protective influence on Josie.

The set, lighting, costumes and sound designers did an exceptional job creating a world of fear and chaos around the tiny center of "reality." The underworld -- though sparsely decorated -- was a truly frightening place and I had an overwhelming urge to get the hell out of there.

Director Chelsea Burwasser used physicality and the tangible to create a world between myth and belief, and she did so to powerful effect. With threads of quaint fairy stories woven with tales of magic and mystical explanations for human events, "The Skriker," in all its confusion and chaos, delivers a taut examination of the stories we tell ourselves to understand our world, our sorrows, and our madness.

Just find a comfy seat somewhere in the middle center.

"The Skriker" runs through July 2 at Third Rail Rep, 17 SE 8th Ave, Portland, OR 97214. For tickets and information, call 503-235-1101 or go to http://thirdrailrep.org/mentorship-program/the-skriker/

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.