nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 13, 2006
The Territory, a new play by Tanya Krohn, is in two parts. The first part is terrific: a man arrives home from work; goes through his evening ritual of putting away groceries, calling his mother, picking up his mail, and so on; and then discovers, in his mail, a very friendly letter from—apparently—his local shopping district. You know the sort of thing: "Dear Neighbor," it begins, and then it continues—somewhat presumptuously, one might argue—to tell you all about the great opportunities and bargains available on Main Street at such-and-such beauty salon and so-and-so's pub: how your life will improve if you only would take advantage of this offer.
Well, this man does with this letter exactly what most of us would: he throws it away.
But then, he gets another one. And another one. And then several in the same day. Is the strip mall stalking him? Does it really need him?
Krohn manages the surreal quality of this everyday modern occurence gone haywire beautifully, and actors Andrew Firda as the increasingly curious man and Alana McNair as the personified (?) mall/letter bring this piece to life masterfully under Cris Buchner's direction. Nick Francone's set—very simple representations of the same house over time, framed by an electronic billboard that is both inviting and menacing—is enormously effective. This part of The Territory is smart satire and intriguing cautionary tale, and makes us hungry for what's to follow.
The second, longer part is about a company that sells alarm systems. This post-9/11 super-duper security system is doing spectacular business everywhere, except in District III. The regional sales manager, Mr. Billings, takes over the district himself, but he can't make headway there either. What is it about this district that makes it different from the others, resistant to the obvious advantages of this product? And what is it about Mrs. Armstrong, the (stereo)typical housewife who becomes the symbol of District III for the increasingly frustrated and obsessed Billings, the makes her such a beguiling object of obsession?
Alas, The Territory does not satisfactorily answer either question, though it seems about to tackle both as it moves compellingly toward its thought-piquing climax. Catastrophe strikes the town and of course District III isn't prepared; and in the midst of the catastrophe, Mrs. Armstrong tells an eerie story of her husband's experiences as a prisoner of war in Iraq. It's good writing, but it doesn't solve the puzzle, instead just throws more pieces at us that don't fit together. In the end, I wasn't sure what Krohn was going for in this second segment, apart from the obvious reinforcement of themes in part one (about relentless modern marketing techniques and the alienation effects thereof).
Buchner has added a very stylized staging to Krohn's piece (I saw an earlier version of part two in the Artists of Tomorrow festival that had none of this stylization); I'm not sure that it adds anything useful to the overall work. The actors are fine, including Kit Behun as Billings's put-upon secretary, George Demas as Billings, and Lethia Nall as a marvelously assured and enigmatic Mrs. Armstrong.