note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Chuck Galle
Hey, remember back before Halloween meant blood, gore and greed? When it was when you got safely gripped in real stark terror, and maybe it really wasnıt so safe after all? The thing was that there was always the element of the truly unknown. Even the wisest of us cannot prove that there arenıt ghostly little ghoulies floating around that creep into our minds and drive us batshit murderously crazy. But weıll take the chance, especially at a time of year when the sun is appearing fewer and fewer hours each day and darkness is becoming something we abide each day. Jeff Symes, author of the new play at the Players' Ring in Portsmouth NH knows that darkness really does scare us. Real darkness and the metaphorical darkness of the mind. Isles In The Moon is about both. And it will scare you, which is a lot of fun. And it will unsettle you, which may or may not be a lot of fun for you, but I believe that a good unsettling is good for me, and I guess I think it should be good for you too. Philosophy aside, Isles In The Moon is powerful entertainment. Tim Robinson, who directed and designed the play, and worked closely with the author and loves to rave about what a marvelous collaborative experience it was, sets us easily on the Isles of Shoals in 1872 with the simplicity we have grown accustomed to the PR. Blocks of sea foam ice define the upstage egresses, hung with netting that makes us feel the fish connection; a solid dock sailboats could tie to and two all purpose blocks of salty ice complete the sense of island, bare boned home and garden area, all before a light is dimmed. And when the lights are dimmed mayhem will clutch your throat.
This is the story of the Smuttynose murders, on the little group of islands off New Hampshireıs seacoast, where it meets the state of Maine. I wonıt elaborate, for the story as it is understood is related in the playbill, along with the nagging doubts left behind by the accused killer, who proclaimed his innocence even into his state imposed death. Symes intention is not to tell a story, but to create an experience. With the craft of Robinson, and the flawless performances by his cast, Jeff Symes as realized his aim.
A wonderful partnership is formed between Kristan Raymond Robinson as The Maid and Gary Locke as Phillip Babb, two ghosts who play like island winds across the shoals of land and minds of people that struggle at living on this unfriendly pile of rocks. Locke is in touch with his own evil and displays it for us with a panache that chills the blood to nervous laughter. Robinson the unsuccessful Protector who becomes Questioner, moves and speaks her poetic lines with the determined grace of a Martha Graham, giving easy truth to the lines of those who ³feel² her presence as she encircles or mirror moves with them. The eeriness these two evoke is as unsettling as it is entertaining. Will MacDonald as John Hontvet, the hard working husband of demanding Maren, played by Anne Despres, tolerates her bossy, unyielding manner with frustration and love, to his eternal credit I am sure. These are exactly the kind of people you would expect to inhabit a spit of land ten miles off the shore of one of the coldest states in America: tough, independent, clear headed and occasionally even warm and loving. Watch MacDonald subtly lead you into thinking he could be the one. Timothy Dargon, as newly arrived Evan Christensen, continues his growth as an actor with this sensitive portrayal and enters a fine chemistry with Paula Place Cordeiro as his loving wife Anethe. Michelle Kilkenny rounds out this family picture as the sad Karen, who has lost a love somewhat mysteriously, and cannot get beyond it. Chris Savage, whose training and experience were truly necessary to this role, plays the enigmatic Louis Wagner with such sympathy and trusting innocence that his couple of ferocious moments add another level to the unsettling nature of this play. The technical support and the costumery in this production are outstanding, Babbıs costume deserving particular applause. Tim Robinson is also to be particularly commended for the profound curtain call. Unsettling, again.
You can still get in to see Isles In The Moon, if you hurry, because this is a wildly popular show. It plays next weekend, October 27 - 29, at Playersı Ring Theatre, 105 Marcy Street, Portsmouth NH. Call 603-436-8123 for further information.