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THEATER REVIEWS: “Edgar & Annabel” and “Far Away”

It’s “Dystopia R Us” at ion theatre these days. Linda Libby directs a British invasion: “Edgar & Annabel,” by Sam Holcroft and Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” through March 29.

”Edgar & Annabel”

Nick (Zack Bolin) and Marianne (Abby Fields) lead double lives. On the surface, they’re an average couple, coming home from work, cooking dinner, maybe having friends over. But look again: they’re both reading scripts written by handler Miller (Robin Christ). Every innocuous line they read has been carefully planned to placate government listeners who have bugged the apartment in search of damning evidence.

What’s going on? The titular Edgar” and “Annabel” are aliases for opposition activists Nick and Marianne. Their apartment contains four gallons of petrochemicals; Nick is an army explosives expert. The opposition’s hope is to win the election a few months away, and they are not above using violence to achieve their ends.

Meanwhile, the government is not only listening but disappearing members of the opposition every day. Now they want to curtail the freedom of assembly.

Recent events in the U.S make this script seem more realistic than Holcroft may have intended. Shadows of Edward Snowden, George Orwell and the NSA are all over the script.

But she also has a good feel for the comedy of the absurd. Arguably the best scene involves a charmingly appalling dinner party with operatives Marc (Jake Rosko) and Tara (Samantha Ginn), in which a noisy karaoke competition masks the sound of their bombmaking operation.

It’s a chilling tale of government repression and citizen resistance, well directed and acted, and nicely aided by Melanie Chen’s ominous sound design and Karin Filijan’s haunting lighting.

Far Away

Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” is almost too weird for words. It begins with Aunt Harper (Robin Christ) trying to convince visiting niece Young Joan (Abby DeSpain) that she hasn’t seen what she just saw: her uncle in the shed, hitting children with a stick. Harper has ready answers for every question – until Joan shows her the blood she slipped in, still on her shoe.

Next we see the grown-up Joan’s first day at a milliner’s. She (Rachael VanWormer) works alongside Todd (Hanz Enyeart), an experienced hatmaker, who explains that all but one of the chapeaux they make under contract for a heart-stopping weekly “parade” will be destroyed after one wearing. That one will be selected for a museum collection. “The hats are ephemeral,” he says. “It’s like a metaphor for ... life.”

Finally, several years later, Joan has returned to Harper’s to visit now-husband Todd. By now the world has gone crazy, the social contract voided. All of nature is at war: wasps are attacking horses, mallards “commit rape, and they’re on the side of elephants and the Koreans. The cats have come in on the side of the French, and the weather here’s on the side of the Japanese.”

Churchill has never been one to shrink from the horrible. Here she tells her story almost like a fairy tale, except that we’ve already seen some of it, and that must make us fear the rest.

Both plays are anchored by Christ, impressive pulling the strings as both hard-nosed handler Miller and dissembling aunt Harper.

Bonin and Fields surmount a (scripted) rocky start as “Edgar” and “Annabel” and develop good chemistry as young activists Nick and Marianne.

Ginn and Rosko provide grim gallows humor as “Edgar & Annabel” karaoke denizens Tara and Marc.

Enyeart’s weary-of-the-system Todd makes a good foil for VanWormer’s more fearful “Stepford wife” Joan.

As Young Joan, DeSpain shows the chops that earned her the local theater critics’ 2013 award for outstanding young artist.

Ion has done it again, with a disturbing and thought-provoking double-header of fear and totalitarianism, wonderfully played by this fine cast and well directed by Libby. Curtis Green’s set design, Claudio Raygoza’s props and Mary Summerday’s costumes make the goings-on look frighteningly ordinary.

The details

“Edgar & Annabel” and “Far Away” play through March 29 at ion theatre’s BLKBOX, 3704 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday matinee at 4 pm.

Tickets: (619) 600-5020 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.