BWW Review: Jen Silverman's WINK at Marin Theatre
Company explores the thin line between savagery and civilization.
Book by Jen Silverman
Directed by Mike Donahue
Marin Theatre Company
A dead skinned cat is the impetus for momentous personality shifts in Jen Silverman's brilliant season finale for Marin Theatre Company. Boldly creative, smartly crafted and very, very darkly comic, Wink follows a very unhappy couple, housewife Sophie and her husband Gregor, as they work through their most recent marital impasse with a seriously flawed therapist. When Sophie's beloved cat Wink disappears, all hell breaks loose, and everyone's lives are forever altered. In examining the complexities of this relationship gone awry, Silverman expands the scope to include an indictment of gender expectations and "the thin line between savagery and civilization."
When we first meet Sophie (Liz Sklar) and Gregor (Seann Gallagher) in their neatly appointed brown and beige mid-century modern living room, you can tell they aren't on the same page. Sophie's deeply upset about Wink, almost unnaturally so, but Gregor blithely shrugs it off. Blackout to the therapist's office where Gregor tells Doctor Frans that he killed, skinned and buried Wink in a rage that both bewilders and excites him. He's kept the skin in a hidden box as a trophy. Doctor Frans questions Gregor about this non-consensual skinning", the killing of his wife's male pet, and declares that the root cause is 'latent homosexual tendencies' that he must "press them down". Gregor questions this and asks whether it might not be homosexual tendencies, but deep inner rage and violent thoughts.
Sophie, likewise, gets an unorthodox diagnosis from the Doctor. She's murderously sad about the missing Wink, so what's her cure? Housework! "There's no joy in spontaneity" he tells her, mundane, predictable depressing hobbies like making placemats are the answer. Its Silverman's not so subtle satire of warped psychobabble that illustrates the confusion and alienation rampant in today's culture. Sophie's housework therapy takes a turn for the worse when her vacuuming becomes a full blown rage attack and she litters the room with Wink's toys, kitty litter and a bottle of Rosè before taking a bat to the walls. Liz Sklar is amazingly vacuous and empty at first. She's lost both her husband and her replacement love Wink. As her fantasies grow to include rape (an extreme replacement for sexual longing), Sklar's eyes become dangerous with excitement, her mannerisms tough and confident.
When Gregor comes home from his monotonous, thankless job, Sophie concocts a ridiculous tale of being assaulted by a burglar who eventually morphs into a terrorist named Roland who sexually assaulted her. It's the beginning of her disassociation from herself. Gregor will also make a startling transformation - wearing the fur skin as underwear and desiring more murderous acts. There's no repairing their relationship as they both are reborn into raw, amoral creatures. Seann Gallagher plays Gregor as the meek, lost male. Full of repressed aggression that he's forced to sublimate, he becomes sociopathic. When he's seen relishing his hidden trophy, toy can feel the misplaced lust of a man caught in a loveless marriage and a mind-numbing career.
So, what's going on with Doctor Frans (Kevin R. Free) you may ask. Well the very buttoned up doc is visited by Wink (John William Watkins), skinned, buried but certainly not dead. Wink moves right in, demanding to be fed, sleeping in the doctor's bed and plotting his revenge against Gregor. The roles flip, and Wink performs therapy on Frans, changing his posture and stance, making him remove his shoes and socks. It's liberation for Frans and a strange love affair begins. Their new mantra is "lift it up", but Wink cannot be happy being the object of another person's love. He can't allow himself to be skinned twice.
Free is sadly comic as the unorthodox therapist who needs a thorough overall himself. Free becomes sympathetic when he falls for wink and allows him self to change. John William Watkins is a scene stealer, transforming himself into a cat with uncanny feline mannerisms. It's both creepy and mesmerizing. His vengeance-fueled confrontation with Gregor is explosive and emotional, as is Gregor and Sophie's funeral for the dead and skinned old Sophie.
Director Mike Donahue has taken Silverman's biting script and somehow captured the emotional turmoil on the stage. The actors become dysfunctional, the action moves swiftly though the 75 minutes and the amorphized Wink is startling, surprising and excellently executed. Once the neatly appointed set, designed by Dane Laffrey, is ravaged, the chaos of the characters is palpable through the set and the incredible, demonic red and orange dramatic lighting of Jen Schreiver.
Celebrating its most successful season ever, MTC has a solid hit with Silverman's unique vision and the high level of excellence from director, cast and crew.
Wink continues through July 7th, 2019 at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, CA. Tickets and information available at https://www.marintheatre.org/ or by calling (415) 388-5208.
Photos by Kevin Berne