Agatha Olson

Feathers and Teeth: monsters win

Artists Rep's challenging, bloody dramedy updates '80s gore flicks with a few laughs, some moral ambiguity, and a twist of kitsch

“What’s the moral of this story?”

Going into Sunday’s talkback, Feathers and Teeth director Dámaso Rodriguez had prepped this and other questions (perhaps to prevent audience meekness from forestalling the conversation? That’s happened before at Artists Rep).

“Trust no one,” someone ventured.

“Leave the pot buried,” suggested another audience member.

Then Rodriguez offered his own take: “Sometimes monsters win.”

This challenging, bloody dramedy by Charise Castro Smith is one of few to depict that literally. There are literal monsters with feathers and teeth, and though we never see them, we’re convinced of their presence by snarls, growls, and the clattering of the lid of the large cooking pot that’s meant to contain them. Much like Little Shop of Horrors‘ Audrey II, these creatures’ carnivorous appetites grow through the course of the story until (spoiler) they’re ready to prey on people. This sinister critter whimsy hearkens back to the plots of many ’80s movies, from Gremlins to Chuckie—as do the puddles of blood that bathe the stage and anoint all characters as somewhat complicit, from The Father’s first red-handed entrance to The Culprit’s final exit, flashing a bloody cold shoulder while walking out the door.

Olson, Pierce, and Hennessy, breaking bread and hearts. Photo: Russell J Young

Aside from the gore, this is a family story of an aspiring stepmother, a sullen teenager, and their conflicted fiancee/father who’s trying to bring them together. Throw in an uptight German Boy Scout neighbor for added character and comedy. Agatha Day Olson plays the teen, Darius Pierce is the dad. Artists Rep mainstay Sara Hennessy plays Carol, and her son Dámaso J. Rodriguez plays the neighbor boy—and that name should sound familiar, because that kid is also director Dámaso Rodriguez’s son. Husband, wife and son all collaborating on this play adds a meta-dynamic of family to the show.

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‘The Nether’: Virtual damnation

Third Rail's futuristic thriller opens up a Pandora's Box of human ugliness and puts a chill in the air

There’s a chill in the auditorium these days over at Imago Theatre. Some nights that’s due in part to some seasonally overzealous air conditioning, but mostly it’s the subtly creepy atmosphere of the current on-stage production by Third Rail Rep.

The Nether, by Los Angeles playwright Jennifer Haley, is escapist entertainment — at least in a manner of speaking. That is, it’s a play about escapism and the thorny ethical implications of a not-so-implausible future in which technology allows anyone with a valid log-in to become immersed in elaborate, multi-sensory virtual environments, like souped-up Second Life for the souls of the bored, deprived or otherwise damned.

O'Connell and deGroat: a virtual faceoff. Photo: Owen Carey

O’Connell and deGroat: a virtual faceoff. Photo: Owen Carey

It’s the levers of damnation — who controls them, or is even able to see them for what they are — that seem to interest Haley most. Of course the fictive future is the rhetorical present, and Haley’s play ponders current, and in some senses longstanding, questions about the lines between reality and representation, between relationships and transactions, between physical and psychological harms. The rapid advance of technology makes such issues both more present and more confounding. So Haley — a Paula Vogel protege whose horror-flick-styled look at video-game addiction Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom was staged a few years ago by Third Rail’s mentorship program — pushes the tech setting to a point where personal liberty and social responsibility get their feet tangled and push comes to shove.

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