Charise Castro Smith

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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