Chicago Theatre Review
Things That Go Bump in the Dark
Feathers and Teeth – Goodman Theatre
In a real departure from the usual Goodman Theatre offerings, Charise Castro Smith’s hybrid of horror and humor offers both gore and glee to Chicago playgoers. With Halloween just around the corner, this is a good way to kick off the season known for its spooks, monsters and things going bump in the night. Ms. Smith’s play is filled with exaggerated characters, suspenseful situations and blood and guts galore. While it’s not a new idea to mix the frightening with the funny, this 90-minute one-act allows the playgoer to view this haunted house tale performed live and just a few feet from where the audience is sitting. Unnerving is an understatement for the experience.
Resident Artistic Associate and the Director of this production, Henry Godinez, has collaborated with the playwright to make this horror story even more frightening and immediate. He’s guided his talented cast toward the kind of acting style found in 70’s sitcoms, like “Three’s Company.” He’s included some very sophisticated shadow puppetry (by Andrea Everman) that turns the kitchen window into a mini story theatre. Made even more direct by the contributions of Foley Artist Carolyn Hoerdemann, Godinez has perched her in full view above the stage. On her tiny balcony, laden with sound equipment, Ms. Hoerdemann is a flower child in long tresses and a flowing kaftan. She sways, dances and lip syncs while injecting appropriate musical interludes, unexpected recorded voices and frightening sound effects (designed by Mikhail Fiksel).
Chris is a young girl from a small, Midwestern town, still suffering the guilt and grief of losing her mother and best friend to cancer. Arthur, her father, seems to have quickly moved on. Indeed, just a few weeks after Ellie’s death, Carol, his wife’s nurse and caregiver is still living in the house, as if she’s a family member. In fact, it seems that Arthur and the annoyingly chirpy Carol have become a sexually-charged couple. They inform Chris, much to her chagrin, that they’re, in fact, planning to marry very soon.
One evening, Arthur accidentally runs over some kind of strange, feathered and fanged animal, roaming around his driveway. He stuffs the dying creature into a large, lidded pot and buries it in the backyard; however, the body refuses to remain underground. The pot returns to the house and, thanks to some assistance by Chris’ nerdy neighbor, Hugo, it’s secretly fed and transferred to the crawl space under the house. Black comedy, unexpected surprises and horrific chills invade the home and permeate this tale of terror to its final moments.
Kevin Depinet’s detailed, modest-sized kitchen setting, complete with an exposed crawl space situated below the stage, evokes the late 70’s. The only problem with it is the large dining table that blocks the sight lines for some playgoers. At crucial moments, when shocking events are occurring in the pantry closet, they’re unfortunately blocked by the furniture. Jesse Klug’s striking lighting helps create the required eerie atmosphere and Christine Pascual’s costumes are period appropriate for the characters who wear them.
Olivia Cygan, still honing her craft as a theatre major at Northwestern University, is excellent as Chris. She convincingly portrays a teenager unmoored by the rage and sorrow at losing her mother. Needing a scapegoat to blame for Ellie’s death, Ms. Cygan builds upon these emotions, gradually erupting in an outburst of violence. There are a few moments of tenderness in her portrayal, but they come at a price. Christina Hall, a superb, versatile actress, so outstanding in musicals like “Always, Patsy Cline” and “The Wild Party,” is both hilarious and frightening as Carol. Instantly switching gears between saccharine sweet and bombastically terrifying, Ms. Hall shows what makes her a Jeff Award-winning actress. For theatergoers who remember and enjoyed the television sitcom, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” Ms. Hall provides a throwback to that comedy.
Eric Slater, so memorable in the Goodman’s “Smokefall,” is fidgety, funny and first-rate as Arthur. This father and recent widower is driven by his libido and can see nothing else, not even his daughter’s distress or the impending doom that lurks under his nose inside a cooking pot. As Hugo, Jordan Brodess sports an impressive resume from all over the country. This fine, young actor is sweetly earnest and heartbreaking as an awkward teenager who’ll do anything to win the heart of the girl next door.
Charise Castro Smith’s premiere opens the Goodman’s Owen Theatre season with a shudder and a laugh. Filled with both moments of outrageous comedy and horror, this unsettling melodrama examines the sorrow of losing a loved one and the anger felt when a stranger tries too hard to fill that void, all paired with a house that’s haunted by some strange, bloodthirsty creatures that continually go bump in the night. This is entertainment that will add an extra chill and a giggle to the Autumn theatrical season.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 19-October 18 by the Goodman Theatre on the Owen Stage, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-443-3800 or by going to www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Feathers.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.