A caged ring.
A stack of potatoes.
A woman. Chained. And her daughters.
Daga is weighing the relative merits of potato v. sausage as a vehicle for poison. Zosia is skeptical of both. Ma is silent, chained, frying what becomes a mix of burnt cabbage, potatoes and dirt off the floor. Handfulls. Dumped and re-fried.
The poison is for Him. The man in boots. Upstairs. In this play, everyone wears boots and I think that means something. But His Boots Mean Extra.
This is The LIDA Project's latest experiment, Mouse in a Jar, with Chicago playwright Martyna Majok writing the words and Julie Rada directing. There are a lot of words, too many at times, but the production is more visceral than verbal despite the text.
According to LIDA: "Mouse in a Jar is a horror story packed full of oddities and underground life forms. This is Stockholm Syndrome. This is the impossible grace of bondage. This is subterranean punk; acts of desperation required."
That's fair, but I'm calling it a love story. It isn't what it looks like on the surface. The horror is there, the violence, Stockholm Syndrome, the potential for sex/gender/race/class politics, the psychological thrill, subterranean punk -- but all of these are touched without becoming central. The story you expect keeps hitting a roadblock with the character you least expect. Instead: a love story, I've decided, by the end, perhaps, with parentheticals, and qualifications, and bondage.
Rada's direction is focused on the visceral at all times: an imposingly empty dirt-and-wood set from Nick Kargel is slowly covered in gauze, shadows from Steven J. Deidel's lights and lurking cast-members replace blackouts, the squeaks and screeches of Brian Freeland's sound become stand-in boot-stomps, the punk daughters suck pacifiers, everyone wears boots, rolling in dirt, as Ma fries burnt cabbage potato skins while chained to a post.
When Ma screams it sounds like .
There is a contrast at work here between the silence of Ma's screams, Daga's incessant talking, and Freeland's horridly-beautiful screeching cacophony that is the ever-presence of The Man (who never appears in the flesh).
The acting, too, is pushed towards the visceral despite the constant pull of the text. Actors create gesture-sentences that follow (or lead) their vocalization. This battle between the words and actions is powerful where both find even ground, and the results pull you apart from inside. But at times the words seem abandoned and rushed, as though we simply need to get through them and on with the action.
It's rough work for the actors in every way, and they handle it with a strong resolve. Daga (Kelleen Shadow) provides the majority of the narration and energy while Ma (Trina Magness) is a near-silent force to be reckoned with. Lorenzo Sariñana shines against-type as an awkward boy/friend, and Janna Meiring's Zosia is a solid support when around.
There isn't much edge to the Denver theatre scene, but LIDA is the cornerstone of what edge is there, and this show is a great introduction to the work they are doing. The show continues to run Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, closing on May 29. There are also $5 Thursdays: May 20th and 27th. The experience is worth it.
BINDERY | space
2180 Stout Street
Denver, Colorado 80205