Fringe 2015 Review: "Dark Wood"


  • Photo via Dangerous Theatre

There is nudity in Dark Wood, let’s get that out of the way upfront. In fact, the actors are already on stage when the audience enters and they are indeed sans clothes. In her program notes, director Winnie Wenglewick makes light of the nakedness, referencing “monkey junk” and, prior to the opening night performance, had a conversation at the entrance loud enough for the audience to hear in which she stated the nudity was “only secondary.” Wenglewick couldn’t be more wrong on this point; the nudity is integral to Peter McGarry’s intriguing script and not just because animals don’t wear clothes.

Mbwane, Rico and Strong Arm — played by Taylor Pappas, Cody Dermon and Jonathan Slusser respectively — are primates caged in a zoo. We’re never quite sure what type of apes they are, and the ambiguities in McGarry’s play don’t stop there. As audience members, we interpret how these three are, in turn, interpreting the world and things usually aren’t crystal-clear. Who are these “peoples” they encounter? Was that crazy bright light something or nothing? What machines are they describing? The material is thought-provoking and causes us to share a bit of monkey anxiety ourselves and understand why they bounce around their confines so manically.

McGarry has created an interesting dynamic with Mbwane, who has recently been introduced to the cage. Unlike his younger cagemates, Mbwane was captured, not born into captivity. Strong Arm is the self-appointed alpha, Rico is the happy-go-lucky Lothario, and Mbwane is the sage, calmly imparting wisdom about a “natural way” the other two have never experienced. Wenglewick has wisely guided her actors to performances that are flavored by primate mannerism as opposed to attempting a full-on mimic.

The naked truth is each actor’s body type informs his role in an essential way. Slussler’s body is tight and svelte, Dermon has an effortlessly in-shape figure, and Pappas’ body shows its age. When Mbwane is challenged by Strong Arm, he knocks the young bully on his ass and it’s a victorious moment for those of us who have begun to realize we’re aging. Mbwane might be older and things may be sagging, but it is a mistake to take that as weakness or irrelevance.

Dark Wood runs a tad long for the Fringe attention span, but it is well worth the commitment.

Dark Wood
Eyewitness Theater Company - United Kingdom
Venue: Brown
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: 18 and up
Price: $11

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