Presented by Entropy Theatre
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Joe Juknievich and Kayleigh Kane
Performed by Emma Tayce Palmer, Jamie Lin, Sydney Grant, Demi DiCarlo, Julia Hertzberg, Tim Hoover, Ryan Lemay
Critique by Kitty Drexel
BOSTON — Entropy Theatre reopened to sold-out performances last weekend. Its production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker was imperfect but bold. It took great risks. Sometimes those risks paid off; sometimes they didn’t. What matters is that Entropy Theatre didn’t let perfection get in the way of telling an important story and having a good time.
According to Britannica.com, the Lancashire striker was a monstrous specter hound. “Its broad, sometimes backward-pointing feet made a splashing noise, and it howled horribly,” says the site. Those who saw it were marked for death. There was no way out of it. The UK gave the dog many names: the Demon of Tidworth, the Black Dog of Winchester, the Padfoot of Wakefield, the Barghest of Burnley, Gwyllgi, the Dog of Darkness, and Cwn Annwn, the Dogs of Hell. It wasn’t some snuggly pup looking for a cuddle.
Churchill’s Skriker (Emma Tayce Palmer as a daunting nightmare fairy) is an ageless, malevolent shape-shifter that steals babies and leeches from human women for sustenance. She is a physical and psychic vampire who grants wishes in exchange for obedience. The Skriker is timeless; she has lured other women into her clutches throughout time.
The Skriker follows Josie (Julia Hertzberg) and Lily (Demi DiCarlo) through modern London, from Josie’s room in a psych ward to Lily’s flat. Josie and Lily know that the Skriker is evil but they cannot help themselves; even as they reject the Skriker, Josie and Lily beg her to return to them. They are no match for the Skriker’s malignant appeal. Jamie Lin, Sydney Grant, Tim Hoover, and Ryan Lemay play the Skriker’s eerie fairy minions, townfolk, and abstract hallucinations.
Churchill’s play runs long. It’s a cool one hour and forty-five-ish minutes long. Entropy’s first half was excellent. Its second half was less so. It wasn’t entirely their fault.
The play opens with a doozy of a monologue that weaves colloquial turns of phrase with Dad puns. Palmer stalks the stage with Lin and Grant in her wake. They are an unholy triune goddess reaping fear and loathing across the land. It’s a fiendish beginning to a play that only expands its unholy abstraction going forward.
The Skriker is a collage of scenes, monologues, and dance. Churchill might have cut her script by thirty minutes and still communicated her message to her audience. She decided to keep all of her scenes in this one. Even the ones that add nothing to the show and repeat previous scenes.
The cast readily submits to the plays’ unreality of imaginary creatures. Any audience member who didn’t follow them in was left in the lurch. That is until the scene I’ve been referring to as the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Hell. Monstrous figures crowded around a ghastly table of human remains as a terrified woman begged for her limbs back. It didn’t make linear sense but the audience was unified in its horrified response. We remained unified until intermission.
Intermission brought confusion. We didn’t know it was intermission (we discovered later that there was a note in the digital program that our audience section didn’t see). We deduced that the play wasn’t over when the cast didn’t come out for bows. We could’ve used an announcement.
Unfortunately, Churchill’s haphazard use of form and flow alienated the audience in the second half. Entropy tried its best but couldn’t wrangle our attentions. We had had enough. Our brains were full.
The Skriker isn’t performed often because Churchill continues to beat a proverbial horse well after it has expired. Then she serves it for tea. It isn’t Entropy’s fault. Even the Manchester international festival couldn’t tackle it in 2015.
The Skriker was folklore at its best and worst. Entropy Theatre took this melancholy beef dumpling of a script and gave it form and style. Directors Juknievich and Kane employed a bag of tricks to unify the production’s disparate scenes. We saw creeping gimp costumes, grunting piggies -the animal kind not the cop-kind-, and looming scissor hands dance across the stage to their own beat. Interpretive dance and edgy creative movement were used to embody the inexplicable.
It was raw and beautiful. It was also why non-theatre people make fun of us. Not all things are for all people. You do you.
Fringe theatre is reawakening. We haven’t defeated COVID-19. That The Skriker ran for three performances is a sign that Boston’s small but mighty fringe theatre community is stirring, shaking its limbs, and carefully poking its head out of its cave to test the sunshine. If fringe theatres are fiscally capable of resurrecting their ensembles to perform to reduced audiences, perhaps the theatre ecology is stable enough to approach new normalcy. Fingers crossed.