Though these two are wildly successful, Nella tells us ominously that they also live downwind from something — for “no matter where you are, you’re always downwind from something.”
Nella’s two children, she tells us half-smilingly, are strange. Andy (Peter Cellini ’04), recently returned from the Gulf War, has turned himself into a sort of statue, a monument in the yard — a “sundial,” as Nella calls him, left out in the garden to photosynthesize and rotated every day so as to tan evenly. Indeed, Andy remains standing on a pedestal, motionless and silent, until the very end of the play, and we don’t really know what’s going on, what happened to him, what he really is now; but the vision of his standing perfectly motionless, covered in gold paint and glowing from the lighting, is certainly striking.
Something in the air during the Gulf War had made Andy strange, Nella says; something in the air at home has made her daughter Susannah (Brooke Lyons ’03) strange. Susannah tells us with a devilish look in her eyes that she can smell the weather. The weather will soon change, she prophesies; the world will be transformed, for in an apocalyptic moment the blue skies will open and be replaced by something far more mysterious and terrifying.
Things get really weird, though, when Raymond (Peter Fenzel ’03), the children’s father, nonchalantly returns from the dead to speak with Susannah and turns out to share a strange kinship, or rather a kinship of strangeness, with his daughter. The structure of the play becomes twisted, scenes and actors move between memory and present indiscriminantly, and it’s impossible to tell whether Raymond ever really died at all, has returned in spirit, or is merely a figment of Susannah’s imagination.
In the end, we don’t quite know why these people are so strange, why they all seem to be so weirdly angry and sadistic (at one point Howard instructs Susannah that she “has to find the murder in her heart”). Maybe it’s genetic (Nella’s ancestors were Gypsies). Maybe it really is in the air. Maybe we’re all, in contemporary American life, strange, sadistic and angry — for after all, everyone lives downwind of something.
There is even a religious tinge by the end of the play. Andy steps down to tell us that through the glory of war he has transcended earthly bounds, and Susannah ascends to the stage’s balcony to hang out with three macabre crows who debate philosophy and epistemology. If this all seems to be making a rather ominous statement (do we have to engage in war or join flocks of desolate-looking birds to get beyond human rage?), the tone of it all is so perfect, almost light and mocking in the face of such weirdness, as to make it all wholly enjoyable.
There is not one unimpressive performance in the show. All of the actors are natural, even nonchalant in their perverseness — with characters who almost beg for overacting, these actors are extremely respectable. Nella is quietly sheepish about her fate, but Wiener’s supple acting lets us glimpse her less obvious anger. The role of Susannah is wonderfully cast; Lyons looks young and impish, and her character is both demonic and surprisingly sweet.
Silverstein and Lodish give truly great performances. Silverstein’s Howard is cheerfully sadistic but not really a bad guy; Lodish as Georgia, the play’s angriest, most bigoted and most entertaining character, is ferociously funny and oddly loveable; both pull off animated, natural, and professional performances.
Indeed, the acting is so terrific, and the actors so well bring out the humor of the play, that we are somehow not as disturbed by all this as we should be. For in the end, the show is wildly funny and impressive no matter how strange and eerie we may find it.
A Murder of Crows
Friday: 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday: 8 p.m.
Whitney Humanities Center, $2