An interesting evening was spent observing a new play by Theater Unleashed in NoHo. It is Cannibals Alone, written by Seph DeFerie and directed by Julia Plostnieks.
It is a story about revenge, anger and frustration that harbors unrealized hopes and dreams. Taking place in a lone cabin far into the woods, two women try to work out their new lives hidden from the government and other people. Naturally with this theme, it is dark and alluring at the same time.
The audience is small as is the seating at this venue. However, everyone seemed captivated by the performances of the four cast members. What would I do? What would you do if everything you have known is turned upside down because of some unforeseen illness that encourages people to turn on each other? It reminds me of the recent zombie craze of television shows like The Walking Dead. But this is more; more out there, more radical. Here, the government takes these ‘ill’ individuals to depots, where they are kept like prisoners so as not to infect others. They are forever labeled depots and must be avoided and ostracized. The state sanctioned teams of loyal patrons called medics have a duty to hunt or kill the depots escaping from their compounds. After all, the healthy ones, the good ones, must be kept safe.
That is where Mags (Heather Lynn Smith), and Rae (Courtney Sara Bell), enter the picture. They are self-imposed rebels in direct opposition to the new order of the governmental tyranny policy. They hunt and kill the unfortunate ones. Hidden for over four years, trusting no one, they must figure out a way not to go batty themselves. Mags is cool and collected, Rae is angry, paranoid and erratic. She is the unknown and the loose cannon that evokes her strong positions in a very loud voice. She continually moves around the cabin ranting about disloyalty and trust. The truth is that they probably cannot trust each other or anyone. Maybe one of them will turn the other in, or worse, become infected with this unknown sickness. We just don’t know what will happen as we watch a few outsiders grace their doorsteps. On one occasion an escapee comes for help, a young woman named Callie, wonderfully played by Margaret Glaccum. They treat her half-way normal after violently vetting her by tying her up and burning a few fingers. If she passes the test, and is not secretly part of the government killing squad, then they decide she can sit and stay for a while. However, she really is an outsider to their pact and Mags and Rae decide to pursue their own form of justice and revenge.
Rae is the ticking time bomb of this pair. She feels put upon by the new rules and regulations of this new society. Her goal is simple and painful. Her beloved brother is dead because of the ‘depots’, but we are never told how or why this happened. Mags just wants to move on and be normal again. She is bored of the lifestyle, the hiding, the anger, and of Rae. Playing ancient board games such as Monopoly and Clue night after night is crazy making and Mags wants out. However, her loyalty to her childhood friend turns out to be her undoing in this often disconnected tale.
Some of the parts of this story seem implausible. Hidden in a house that is far from others in the forest and off the grid, they are somehow still connected to the internet. They say they are honorable in helping the infected escapees find a pathway out to Canada; but until the last 15 minutes of the play we didn’t understand why they would help those so hated. Could there have been another way to seek their revenge as punishment for an idolized dead sibling? It appears Mags and Rae may be punishing the wrong party. Still at 90 minutes without a break, it moved well.
The acting is good, especially by Margaret Glaccum as the scared and frightened young woman who only wants to be free and find her husband. She showed the most range in her Callie character. She was able to bring a humanity and reality to this person that the others did not possess. Courtney Sara Bell played her part well as the really crazy one; however, it was not clear if this was the character or if this is her interpretation of Rae. The storyline has flaws; however, the overall production was well done. It is good to see a female-driven play that highlights women’s comraderie and strength. I am not sure it would have the same impact with an all-male cast. Especially notable was the set design by Ann Hurd who also played a character named Val, sister of Callie. It worked comfortably with the movement of the characters and set the appropriate dark tone. It did feel as if the audience was actually in that hideaway cabin with the two main actors.
Jean Schderi Crafts is the artistic director of this production along with Gregory Crafts as the managing director. For remaining tickets, contact www.theatreunleashed.org. The Belfry Stage, 11031 Camarillo St. North Hollywood, CA 91602. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2/9 through 3/4/2017.