LAYERS OF SUSPENSE Dersham and Platt in The Cabin. Photo: MELISSA RABINOW
Sometimes a solitary cabin in the woods is just a solitary cabin in the woods, Freud might have said, but sometimes it's epitomizing psychological isolation and yearning for human connection. In the Elemental Theatre Collective's fourth annual original play festival (through February 7 at Perishable Theatre), three writers play variations on the theme in that setting.
Quality rather than quantity is the aim this year, with only three plays instead of as many as 10 in the past. The collective title is "the father, the son and the holy go.go," and the plays are: The Cabin, by George Brant; RedPop, by Alexander Platt; and Two of Us, by Dave Rabinow. The last two writerss, founders of the series in 2007, were joined by Brant, who has had numerous works produced around the country.
As usual, the plays incorporate several specific elements. The writers were each to include two Catholic sacraments, plus one as a "wild card" for all of them, which were picked out of a hat. They also had to use the cabin setting, which was determined the same way. The sacraments were Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, Holy Orders, Matrimony, Reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick.
Designed to stimulate imaginations rather than restrict them, the writing device is unobtrusive here, nearly unnoticeable. Perhaps that's facilitated by sacraments being employed only metaphorically. Matrimony thereby extends to any committed relationship, communion can refer to any deeply meaningful sharing, and anointing the sick can be with lovingly applied Vicks VapoRub.
The high point of the evening is The Cabin, written by Brant and directed by Rabinow. The satisfaction bonus is as much from Platt's captivating performance as from Brant's skillful unfolding of a compelling story. It has a surprise ending, not in a manipulative O. Henry fashion but rather blossoming out of the character of Karen, charmingly played by D'Arcy Dersham. Platt is Scott, her husband of six years, who dotes with a dignified but boyish devotion.
The Cabin has layers of narrative suspense, with much to gradually reveal to us. Karen used to go to the cabin in summer from the time she was a teenager, but she hasn't been back for 20 years. Why not, and why relent this year to Scott's good-natured requests to not let it "go to waste"? She tells him about a boy she fell in love with there, and every time you think the last surprise has emerged from that story she proceeds to another eye-opener. This play is as absorbing as a campfire tale.
RedPop, written by Platt and directed by Melissa Rabinow, has Molly (Kelly Seigh) going off to think at the cabin. She found out that she is pregnant and is conflicted about the pluses and minuses of bringing a child into this troubled world with its probability of misery. And, she thinks, if the kid were to grow up to be happy, that would make it just another one of the oblivious people around her that she despises now. The father is Ian (Dave Rabinow), a city boy spooked by forest creepy-crawlies, who arrives to comfort her. Another visitor, only in her mind and in an orange jumpsuit, is Mr. Heikkela (Platt), currently in prison for having sex with several girls at the high school she attended. Why is she thinking about him, why now?