The Skriker
Raleigh Ensemble Players @ ArtSpace
Through Oct. 25

It takes guts and imagination to stage a complex, cerebral work on a limited budget in a limited space. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. Such is the case with Raleigh Ensemble Players’ production of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker, which takes an already-difficult text and manages to make it more oblique. The production has a certain Gothic power, but most audience members will leave asking “What just happened?” I know, because everyone I surveyed after the show I saw said this.

The Skriker is a modern-day update of numerous dark fairy tales, most notably the myth that faeries leave changelings in the place of human infants. A shape-shifting faerie known as a “skriker” or “screamer,” played by various members of the ensemble, has decided to track down two British girls, Josie (Collette Rutherford) and Lily (Whitney Griffin); the skriker has already helped lead Josie to kill her baby and is now after the pregnant Lily. This evil apparition, whose world is fading, appears in different human guises to Lily in her equally bleak real world, trying to draw Lily in.

Churchill has much of the story narrated by a pale woman (Lori Engle) in an elaborate, punning style reminiscent of James Joyce. The set for this production is a series of painted chairs in a circle, with an overturned piano serving as the major prop. It’s a claustrophobic, chilling atmosphere, but it doesn’t allow for much movement, and at times the story is almost incomprehensible—particularly the 15-minute-long opening monologue, which sets up a good bit of the story but might inflict severe pain to your frontal lobe. Some productions have one person playing the skriker in its different aspects, but the use of multiple actors here serves as a distraction, resulting in scene after scene where a new character turns out to be an evil faerie. The effect draws attention away from the dialogue and the ideas contained therein.

Shannon Clark’s costumes have a layered, Neil Gaiman-esque creepiness, but the overall effect of The Skriker is a series of confusing scenes that end in bloodcurdling screams. Raleigh Ensemble Players deserve credit for taking on such a complex play, but their production doesn’t quite pull it off. It sticks with you—but you’ll probably leave wondering exactly what it was you saw. —Zack Smith