Presented by CMS Productions & Wax Wings Productions
Written by Cassie M. Seinuk
Directed by Christopher Randolph
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Somerville, MA) Eyes Shut. Door Open. was not what I expected. I anticipated a dramatic play about two brothers sorting out their issues after an art exhibit. One of the characters wears an eye patch, I expected some silly pirate jokes and an origin story. There’s a lady in the show. I expected a feminist twist or two. I did not expect to be creepy out of my seat by jaw-clenching psychological thrills. This play starts out tame but it doesn’t stay that way.
Turner Street (Victor Shopov) is a smarmy painter whose art is a smashing success in NYC. He’s very much intent on bringing cater waitress with a secret Johanna (Melissa deJesus) back to his place to show her “his art.” Despite his overwhelming arrogance, she agrees. It is there, in the heat of the moment, that Turner’s troubled brother Palmer (Michael Underhill) shows up out of the blue. Thanks to the poop-stirring of Johanna, the boys have an explosive conversation/brawl over their daddy issues. It’s not a real family reunion until everyone’s miserable.
ESDO’s official summary is here. What it doesn’t mention is the potential for easily shocked audience members to pee themselves upon witnessing the horror elements of the production. The sets looks standard but it isn’t. The flexible white walls, domestic abuse shadow puppetry, and strange sound effects evoke creepy jeepers on audience spines. The lighting and sound design of this production may be relatively simple but it is super effective. They capture the essence of what it is to experience PTSD… if the role of one’s childhood tormentor happened to be played by SATAN. Not a lie: I seriously thought someone was going to get sacrificed onstage. I was so happy to be wrong.
The acting and direction are very tight. The exception being the first few moments of the play which are misleadingly floppy. This artifice and ego of the first scenes grow to a dark place of human vulnerability. It’s a weird place but it is real. While the events of the play aren’t relatable, the emotional journey of the characters is.
ESDO has more daddy issues (and eye pokings) than King Lear. I would not say that it’s an enjoyable show. There’s nothing enjoyable about watching a family implode. ESDO is entertaining in a twisted way. It is psychologically messy, and its characters are morally feeble but it’s good theatre. Even if you’ve already seen Eyes Shut. Door Open. in its previous incarnation, it would be worth seeing it again.