LA Theater Review: STRANGER THINGS (The Ghost Road Company at Atwater Village Theater)

by Kat Michels on September 8, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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A PUZZLE TO RELISH SOLVING

As both theatergoer and theater writer, this reviewer is decidedly unenthusiastic about absurdist, avant-garde, or post-modern theatre.  It’s not so much the concept or ideas behind these movements as it is the execution. Playwrights and theatre companies get so caught up in approaching the presentation of their story – vignettes, chanting, multi-media – that they often forget to tell the story itself.  However, the Ghost Road Company’s Stranger Things (conceived and directed by Ronnie Clark) employs all of these techniques, and more, to tell their story; and they do it brilliantly.

LA Theater Review by Kat Michels: STRANGER THINGS - The Ghost Road Company at Atwater Village Theater in Los AngelesIf this is a play that you’re already planning to attend, stop reading now and just go and see it.  The less you know going in, the better, as it begins with nothing but questions, of which the answers are slowly, methodically doled out as the play progresses. So, seriously, stop reading and go see the play!

But if you must know more, read on….

LA Theater Review by Kat Michels: STRANGER THINGS - The Ghost Road Company at Atwater Village Theater in Los AngelesCold and hard is the theme of the evening, echoed throughout every aspect of the design.  Maureen Weiss’ set is constructed of wooden pallets, painted white and embellished with foreboding cracks and holes. Cricket S. Myers’ sound design employs an incessant howling wind, crunching snow, and gunshots that reverberate through the space.  Pam Shaw’s costume design and Chris Wojcieszyn’s lighting design plunge us even deeper into the cold; the further the characters become immersed into the story, the more desaturated the clothing and lighting become.

LA Theater Review by Kat Michels: STRANGER THINGS - The Ghost Road Company at Atwater Village Theater in Los AngelesAnd it is quite a story. Johan is a graphic novelist who hasn’t been home for over twenty years.  Far up north, his Mother and his sister, Helga, have turned their home into an Inn so that they can save enough money to move to a warmer climate.  When their first guest rapes Helga, their Inn takes a grisly, yet profitable, turn: the Mother kills the man, and they steal all of his money.   A pattern soon emerges.  Men travelling alone with little to no family arrive, never to depart again.  Mother and daughter have perfected their gruesome art by the time that Johan arrives, but they don’t recognize him.  Shortly after, Johan’s husband, Matt, enters the Northern fray, upon which a revelation is unleashed that colors everything that came before and informs everything that follows.

The multitude of questions raised at the beginning are either answered or at least hinted at enough to glean the answer.  The chanting, the singing, the projections…all come to fruition to serve a purpose by the end.  An end, by the way, that raises even more questions, but of the kind to spark a lively post-theater debate.

This is a complex play with a cast that made it look easy.  Christel Joy Johnson as Helga is the very personification of cold and hard with her formal approach and sternly clipped words.  Katharine Noon as the mother is the perfect stoic-yet-kind counterpart to Helga.  Brian Weir as Matt beautifully plays the part of the neglected husband without ever succumbing to whining, and Doug Sutherland as Johan is simply diabolical…but only when his actions are looked at in retrospect.  This is a work in which, once you’ve seen the end, your mind stretches back in time to truly understand the beginning.  LA Theater Review by Kat Michels: STRANGER THINGS - The Ghost Road Company at Atwater Village Theater in Los AngelesActually, the significance of the piano player (David O), who performs live music throughout the evening, is the one question at the beginning for which this reviewer hadn’t come up with an answer by the end.  Not that he doesn’t play well or detracts from the play, just…why?  Readers are invited to post their guesses below.

kat @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Jose Diaz

Stranger Things
scheduled to end on September 25
for tickets, visit http://www.ghostroad.org/ or call 310-281-8341

LA Theater Review by Kat Michels: STRANGER THINGS - The Ghost Road Company at Atwater Village Theater in Los Angeles