Bloody Fences Make Good Neighbors: SOCIAL CREATURES

PHOTO: MARK TUREK

Presented by Trinity Repertory Company

by Jackie Sibblies Drury
directed by Curt Columbus

Providence, Rhode Island
Trinity Rep Co Facebook Page
March 14 – April 21

Review by Craig Idlebrook

This play contains graphic violence. Running time is 95 minutes with no intermission.

(Providence) It didn’t look like a good setup for good theater. Post-apocalyptic zombie invasions have become all the rage for script-writers, and there have been several new plays in Boston which have attempted to turn flesh-eating marauders into viable drama; few have been successful. The best resembled family dramas with zombies tacked on; the worst became fan fiction.

But Jackie Sibblies Drury’s sharp script for Social Creatures powers the best production of a new play I’ve seen in a long time. This tense and gory tragicomedy, debuting at Trinity Rep, avoids so many pitfalls of both new plays and zombie drama. It creates a credible atmosphere of real danger, both physically and emotionally, and Drury uses the threat to effectively explore what we lose as a society when we lose intimacy.

Drury’s script holds the promise for a good night’s theater in its pages, but it’s the stage that first seduces us into the play’s dark message. Set designer Eugene Lee and lighting designer Josh Epstein transform Trinity Rep’s theater into a world of plywood and ducktape, where humanity is hanging by a thread after a poorly-understood outbreak of cannibalism. Banks of televisions alternatively showing security footage and disjointed pictures of the actors underscores our sense of dystopia and disconnect, leaving the stage ripe for drama and social satire.

While most post-apocalyptic stories use horrific events to explore how we re-form society a la Lord of the Flies, Drury and director Curt Columbus take the storytelling up a notch by exploring instead how the characters choose not to form society. These survivors stubbornly cling to their personal space by addressing each other by assumed names and clinging to rules and checklists that keep bunker living civil, but not bearable. The plot is sparse, with a half-hearted search for a disappeared member of the group and the scary appearance of a stranger. The action is interspersed with monologues where each character describes their tribal histories, from joining the chess club to being part of Middle Earth societies.

The audience, prepared for camp, only becomes aware that it’s watching something more when moments of intense gore are followed by quiet and credible conversation, and we hang on every word. While there is sometimes too much loud vocal traffic on stage, Drury wisely peppers the script with Tarantino-like small-talk to underline the social satire. We feel invested in these characters, generic as they try to make themselves, and that makes their attempts to disconnect from each other all the more horrific.

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