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BWW Reviews: Into the Home of Happy Medium Theatre's DYING CITY

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With Boston's space race being what it is, I am always excited to see theatre companies that use unconventional spaces in inventive ways. I have seen a lot of theatre in this city, but Happy Medium's production of DYING CITY by Christopher Shinn was the first piece I've seen in the private home of those performing. In one of the most intimate evenings of theatre I've experienced, I was welcomed into the home of Michael Underhill and Kiki Samko, and watched them perform a dark and highly emotional tale in their living room.

This was hyper realism in its definition. The audience (a group so small that in any other venue would be uncomfortable, but somehow added to the atmosphere of this intimate show) sat in the den, looking directly into the living room of a woman in flux. We watched as she sat in silence, reading covers of books previously forgotten on the bookshelf, and mindlessly watching reruns on the television sitting in front of her. She left the room and we heard the noises of water being boiled before seeing her return with a steaming cup of tea that she proceeded to drink throughout the evening. This was not an act; rather, we were watching her live in her own space.

Then the piece began. Kiki Samko plays Kelly, a recent widow packing up her home, who is surprised by an impromptu visit from Peter, the identical twin brother of her deceased husband. Michael Underhill plays Peter, as well as brother Craig in seamless flashbacks, allowing the audience to not only peek into the intimacy of Kelly's home, but of her memories. Throughout the evening, as present and past meld into one another, we learn dark details of Kelly and Craig's marriage, as well as the fragility of her relationship with Peter. We are allowed to be present for two of the most life-shattering evenings of this woman's life, watching her relive one as she stumbles through the other.

I usually do not like when real-life couples play opposite one another, as I find that their real chemistry often reacts strangely with the characters' chemistry, but I actually found this to be a rather successful onstage pairing. Samko and Underhill are married in real life (and are nothing like the tumultuous Kelly and Craig), and their comfort with one another was clear and natural within the story. Samko played her role stoically, choosing to portray the character with a surprising strength. Underhill had the added challenge of switching back and forth between gruff, troubled Craig and the effeminate, vivacious Peter. As such a masculine actor, I found his Craig to be the more believable of his two roles, but honestly had no issue going along for the ride. Underhill was nuanced and specific, moving in and out of reality and memory with ease.

The piece was directed by Cameron Cronin, whose strength undoubtedly lay in the choreography of the piece. The transitions between present day and evenings past were practically seamless, leaking into one another in a way that made it very clear that this was existing both in the real world and in Kelly's memories. I did not see the flashbacks coming, but had no trouble following along.

My biggest critique of the piece, however, was in its pacing. The show is heavy throughout, but reaches a very important climax in two scenes towards the end. I would have found these moments to be more powerful and hard hitting had lighter interactions been examined throughout the rest of the show. In general, I think there were too many heightened pauses and pregnant silences, making the whole piece seem heavy, quiet, and slow. Substantially speeding up the pacing, especially in the first half of the production, would have helped to shape the arch of the piece in general and make the silences surrounding the climax more deserved.

This really was a theatrical experience unlike any I've had prior. It felt less like a stereotypical show and more like venturing into someone's private space and thoughts, which worked very well within the structure of the piece. I almost felt like I was witnessing a conversation I shouldn't be privy to, but somehow couldn't look away. It was an incredibly cool experiment (albeit a bit slow) and I'm very glad to have seen a new and exciting form of theatre.

Written by Christopher Shinn; Directed by Cameron Cronin; Production/Stage Managed by Mikey DiLoreto; Assistant Stage Managed by Amy Meyer and Lesley Anne Moreau; Featuring Kiki Samko and Michael Underhill

Happy Medium Theatre's production of DYING CITY, the company's first ever Home Grown Theater Project, will play throughout June and July at the private home of Ms. Samko and Mr. Underhill. For more information and tickets, visit www.happymediumtheatre.com.


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Alex Lonati holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies and Journalism from Emerson College, where she spent four years hosting Standing Room Only, the (read more...)