BWW Review: THE RIDLEYS at The Abbey Theatre
Immersive. Visceral. Chilling. Herculean.
Have you ever pondered over a shocking news story and thought: what possibly could have possessed the individual to behave in that erratic manner? Philip Ridley tackles that question not once but twice in his 2 plays: Tonight with Donny Stixx and Dark Vanilla Jungle.
Two naive teenagers. Donny (Rex Ryan) is an aspiring magician and Andrea (Katie Honan), a young girl in love. Honan and Ryan inhabit their characters so convincingly that the illusion is complete and you find yourselves following them down their rabbit holes and uncomfortably observing pivotal events in their lives that mould and define them leading to their current predicaments.
Playwright, Philip Ridley has achieved a remarkable feat. In a mere 75 minutes, he gives you a complete snapshot of a young person's life. Their hopes, fears, prejudices, and desires. Their blinding pride and protective ignorance. Their primal urge for love and acceptance.
If Ryan and Honan were athletes, I would place them both firmly in the Ironman category. Their one man/woman show was herculean! Both Donny And Andrea are intensely physical roles with continuous rapid-fire dialogue. In addition, they played a multitude of complex supporting characters who were so vivid and tangible that afterward, I had difficulty reconciling how each of the plays cast only a single actor.
Both plays sat uneasily on my mind. No doubt this is Ridley's intention. The set, a cold grey prison-like cell aided by bleak lighting and depth distortion, added to the discomfort. Tonight with Donny Stixx is an incompatible mix of hope and impending doom. Dark Vanilla Jungle is particularly chilling as you realize the ugly implications of a single wrong turn. If you enjoy spotting patterns, the two plays provide a rich tapestry of parallel events as well as a lone character who features in both plays.
As an intimate observer of these two guileless teens, I understood their motivations and bizarre conduct. It was impossible not to be deeply moved by these two completely human and flawed characters. Noting that to be human is to be flawed, I wonder how differently I would have behaved with the same life experiences?
Come prepared for an immersive and visceral experience. These plays will squeeze water from a stone. I was moved. I questioned my own bias. I came to understand the ambition of each protagonist and realized the inevitability of their outcome. In the end, empathy did trump judgment as I discovered a deeper fragment of my own humanity.