The Chrysalis Stage
nytheatre.com review by John Samuel Jordan
August 17, 2006
"Chrysalis" is the pupal stage of butterflies, one in which there is little movement. Growth and differentiation occur and the beautiful, adult butterfly emerges, flying out of its cocoon...most of the time.
In Different Light Theatre's new drama, The Chrysalis Stage, the intended butterfly is Shawna, a troubled 17-year-old girl, who has just been kidnapped by Frank, a middle-aged, very unbalanced man. The play opens as a still unconscious Shawna, in ponytail and roller skates, is brought to her new "home" or "cocoon," a makeshift dungeon somewhere deep underground. Before she awakens, Frank locks a chain to one of her ankles, the other end previously secured. He has obviously prepared for this.
Shawna does not speak for a good portion of the opening, during which Frank explains to her a little about himself, and how he has no intention of harming her in any way. He has been admiring her from afar—dancing at clubs, skating at the roller rink, and "being dirty" with the boys. He feels he needs to "help" her. He really does not wish to molest her or even touch her. He only wants to be her friend.
Shawna, rightfully so, is frightened and outraged. But we soon learn that Shawna is a deeply wounded soul herself, and as I was locked into this captivating yet difficult play, I found myself wondering if this could possibly be a good thing for her.
Running just under 90 minutes, a haunting transition occurs between Act I, the opening kidnapping scenes, and Act II, three years later, demonstrating the playful and twisted love that has developed between these two people, whose situation has not changed in the time passed.
Written and directed by Cobey Mandarino, the play as a whole is phenomenal. Mandarino's direction matches his writing—sharp and brisk. I would like to know more about Frank's family, perhaps his parents. I was curious as to what may have driven him to this way of life.
Jessi Campbell plays Shawna with hell-child conviction. Campbell needs to be commended for so convincingly portraying a teenager trying to escape her own psychological imprisonment as well as a new physical one imposed upon her. Hands down the best performance I've seen at FringeNYC this year!
The play is definitely very dark, but thankfully it does have its humor. Timothy Roselle's Frank, taken out of the context of this play, would be hysterical. He's quirky, goofy, insecure—all the things that make us laugh. However, in this situation, it is rather uncomfortable humor, and Roselle handles the situation effortlessly.
Douglas Back's lighting and sound design definitely seemed very well-thought-out and executed. The sounds of Frank entering and/or leaving the dungeon are chilling, especially when the entire space is in the dark. The lights also add a heartwarming and/or heart-pounding texture to the production when needed.
I can only hope that FringeNYC represents the chrysalis for The Chrysalis Stage, which should emerge from this brief run and be given the audience it deserves.