Bathroom Blame Games
By Tom Wachunas
…Am I my brother’s keeper? –Genesis 4:9-
When a play’s opening line is “F--k. Oh, f--k,” the proverbial red flag has been raised. Red, signaling not just coarse language and ‘mature’ subject matter, but also blood. Lots of it. Welcome to Sweet Confinement, a 2008 play written by Anna Carini and directed here by Johnny Russell. The play is the inaugural production of the newly formed Parallax Ensemble Theatre, and will be showing for one more weekend at The Kathleen Howland Theater in downtown Canton.
The indelicate utterance at the beginning takes place in a pristine, dazzlingly white bathroom (set by Kevin Anderson) as two friends – Amy and Amelia – stand dazed and dumbfounded, staring down at a massive pool of blood on the floor. Over the course of the next 80 minutes a total of five individuals, friends since childhood, convene ‘round this gruesome sight as they struggle to process the trauma that brought them here – the attempted suicide of another friend named William, who is Amy’s estranged husband.
In many ways William is the true central figure in the story despite the fact that we never see him in the flesh, though certainly in his blood. Like peeling an onion, the play unfolds in pungent layers that progressively reveal just how much hurtful, alienating power his troubled life (fueled by depression and drinking) has had over that of his friends.
They in turn bring their own baggage filled with dirty laundry to the occasion. This meeting in the bathroom is surely a grim gathering of hostages. Mutual ridicule and finger-pointing is rampant as they grapple with their guilt and grief. It’s a veritable feasting on woulda-coulda-shouldas, spiced with moments of dark humor as well as a few genuinely sweet reminiscences. And all the while, there’s the constant, painfully potent imagery of Amy and Amelia slowly, v-e-r-y slowly soaking up the blood with paper towels. But it’s never going to be completely clean again. “There’s nothing in this room that can be fixed,” Amy disgustedly mutters at one point, “we’re all f---ing broken.”
All of the cast members are eminently well- focused and credible in delivering the individual quirks and nuances of their characters. Rachel Callahan is the earthy, volatile and otherwise mouthy (and not so silver-tongued) Amelia. Angeleina Valentine is Ginger, a tender-hearted people pleaser. Christopher Hisey plays the sullen, hardened Caleb, who has always longed for Amy and thinks they’re all better off with William out of the picture. Justin Edenhofer is the distant Josh, Amy’s brother and ex-best friend of William.
But it’s Moriah Ophardt, in her role of Amy, who most stunningly, most convincingly embodies the struggle to reconcile compassionate understanding with her awful brokenness. While there are some very effective scenes of explosive tension between various characters here, none is more utterly volcanic, more searing and real than hers when, collapsed on the bathroom floor with just her brother present, she breaks down into heart wrenching sobs of rage and pain.
All of these honest, compelling (and sometimes glib) portrayals bring to mind the somewhat poetic ordinariness of characters in stories by the great Russian dramatist, Anton Chekhov, in what he called his “theatre of mood.” Though it’s true that righteous moralizing or sermonizing was largely antithetical to his influential aesthetic, I’m not convinced that the world needs yet another play about the human condition as essentially cheerless as this one is, no matter how excellently performed.
It’s certainly a sobering examination of the spiritual ineptitudes that undermine our capacity to connect with one another in an ultimately affirming or lasting way. At the same time it offers little in the way of a substantial respite from the ills it so relentlessly uncovers. The play seems instead to settle into mere, albeit intelligent infatuation with the emotional and psychological dysfunctionalities of its characters. Call it a theatre of pathology.
Sweet Confinement, at The Kathleen Howland Theater, 324 Cleveland Avenue NW, downtown Canton. Shows at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 28 and Saturday, Sept. 29, Sunday Sept. 30 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $12 at (330) 451 - 0924, or www.secondapril.org/sweetconfinement
Photo: Cast from left to right: Justin Edenhofer, Rachel Callahan, Angeleina Valentine, Moriah Ophardt, Christopher Hisey