STUCK

I admit, I was skeptical of this assignment:  Go see a play about a woman stuck on a toilet seat.  No, it’s not performance art.  It’s realism.  It’s so real, in fact, that it was inspired by an actual news story.  As the Associated Press reported, on February 27, 2008 the Ness City, Kansas sheriff’s department responded to a call from a man stating that “there was something wrong with his girlfriend.”  Apparently, she had sat so long on the toilet that her skin began to grow around the seat and her legs had atrophied into disuse.  Everyday her boyfriend would bring her food and water and ask her to step out of the bathroom.  She never would, saying instead, “maybe tomorrow.” 

Believe it or not, I am happy to report how unfounded my skepticism about this play was. 

In actuality, Stuck is a compelling new work from playwright and Cornish grad Jessica Hatlo.  Along with director Sarah E. R. Grosman and a strong ensemble of actors, Hatlo relates the story of a couple in trouble, confounded by their own demons, their surroundings, and each other.  From the first, boyfriend Danny (Alex Matthews) and girlfriend Amy (Kay Nahm) are both loveable and pitiable, filthy yet endearing and, well, cute.  Matthews delivers a near pitch-perfect, naturalistic performance as a young man who loves his girlfriend but does not know how to help her.  Nahm, in the challenging role of the shut-in, Amy, gives a multi-tonal performance that runs you through the gambit of emotions.  You love her and you hate her.  You feel sorry for her, yet you want to stop her talking.  You wonder what has driven her to this state in life, and—above all—you do not want to end up like her. 

The atmosphere of the production is visceral—one can almost too well imagine what it would be like to live in that apartment.  The script is a tight, Aristotelian piece of drama that yet makes room for comedic dream sequences.  For instance, when Amy is left alone, she hallucinates that characters from the television are talking to her.  These TV personalities, from Howie Mandel and Dr. Phil to Oprah and Miss Cleo of the Psychic Hotline, are played wonderfully by Qadriyyah Shabazz and Chris Malsen who take on multiple roles. Jill Snyder-Marr as the schoolmarm’ish, busy-body building manager, Celeste, gives a strong performance as well.  The production is nicely designed (lighting by Monty Taylor, costumes by Katie Hegarty and sound by Skyler Burger), and both Director Grosman and Set Designer Clare Strasser deftly handle the potential problems that come with working with such a small stage space—and having a leading lady that is shut up, immobile, behind a door. 

Given the psychologically-driven nature of the story, the production is ripe for conversation and analysis.  If you go, you will have much to talk about.

Stuck.  By Jessica Hatlo.  Directed by Sarah E.R. Grosman.  Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Avenue East, Seattle.  March 16 – April 9, 2012.  Tickets and information at www.washingtonensemble.org.  

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