BWW Review: PEELING at Sound Theatre Company
PEELING by Kaite O'Reilly is a deep look into the lives of disabled actors and the issues they face both on and off stage. The three-actor show is a play within the play as we see the actors both in their staged performances and in their interactions between scenes. The show begins with one actor missing the opening cue for places because she is deaf and no thought was given as to how the stage manager would communicate with her. From that initial slam of reality, PEELING pulls no punches as the actors tackle a manifold of issues facing the disabled community.
Scenic and costume design by Taya Pyne and Parmida Ziaei provides an elaborate yet simple system for the actors to move through both the internal play and their own stories. There are layers which the actors peel away as we delve deeper into their world. The backdrop includes screens for projections of images and more importantly the text of the script which enables the audience to understand the dialogue whether spoken or signed. I felt a pang of sympathy for the actors since said projections also provided the audience with immediate knowledge of any missed word or line. Luckily these three actors were up to the challenge. The sections of screens were connected with criss-crossing fabric in neutral shades reminiscent of bandages attempting to hold us together when we are broken. The visual appeal and impact of the show is strong and engaging. However, I think due to the projected text, those sitting in seats on the far edges of the theater will have a harder time following the dialogue.
The three actors offer us three very different looks at life with a disability. Coral played by Carolyn Agee is introspective and carries a heavy load in the form of a secret. Agee shows us someone who longs for connection and understanding while still trying to make sense of the crazy world herself. Alfa played by Michelle Mary Schaefer is still a dreamer. Life has bruised and battered her, but has not broken her. Schaefer is enthralling in her movement and expression which conveys her pain in a very raw manner. Beaty played by Sydney Maltese is the firecracker of the group. She is mad at the world, outraged by injustice, and defiant in the face of extreme odds. Maltese makes what could be an unsympathetic character, the very heart of the show. In a show almost devoid of humor, her sarcasm and wry wit are a welcomed element. The three work together as a tightly knit unit, playing off each other with great ease.
The play within the play is called Trojan Women Then and Now and recounts the sacking of Troy and the atrocities that occurred. Between scenes the actors discuss various aspects of their lives. While their specific disabilities are different, the obstacles and lack of acceptance they face are often the same. As the play progresses and layers are peeled away, the strict delineation between the two plays is softened. Their connection and parallel to the women of Troy increases, and the abstract nature of things widens. The play presents a lot of issues to process. The heaviness is all encompassing. At times I felt as if O'Reilly had been told she would only get to write one play for and about disabled community, and she felt the need to tell us all their stories instead of focusing on one. Perhaps one well-told story that left us asking for more would have been preferable. While the show was powerful, it lacked room to breathe. One stinger of a line could not take full effect before the next was rendered. It was like having tennis balls lobbed into your arms. You catch the first couple, but as they keep piling on, you eventually drop them all as it was just too much at once. Hopefully the audience can hang on to a few of those poignant moments and carry their weight with them for a while.
PEELING is a production of Sound Theatre Company being performed at Center Theatre in the Armory building at Seattle Center now through August 24th. For more information or tickets, visit www.soundtheatrecompany.org.