If you are going to bill a play as your Halloween show, it ought to be filled with fright and fear, and get an audience to tremble in their seats, closing their eyes to keep the phantoms away.
Alchemist Theatre billed "Suicide Sleep"as its Halloween show, but nobody in the audience was trembling or closing their eyes to keep phantoms away.
Instead, they were all on the edge of their seats – as was I – riveted with curiosity about just where this journey was going to take us. We were obviously on some kind of trip, but it was not in a plush stateroom on some smooth sailing ship. It was instead in some kind of rowboat in a turbulent and roiling sea.
Under the direction of Charles Sommers, this play by Aaron Kopec could well be one written from the ranks of the avant garde playwrights of the 20th century.
Samuel Beckett’s "Waiting for Godot" prompted famous Irish critic Vivian Mercier to call it "a play in which nothing happens but keeps the audience glued to their seats."
Welcome to the world of "Suicide Sleep." After seeing it, I have a hard time figuring out what just happened, but I’m equally certain that something important and interesting did.
Let me lay out some facts (or at least I think they are facts).
Rick is a guy who lives in a ghastly apartment in an attic of a slum and can’t get any sleep because of the racket of his neighbors and the devils dancing in his head. Jimmy is the weed-riddled, good meaning neighbor who thinks Rick is having troubles with his girlfriend, Lynn, who is a medical student. Jimmy thinks he can show Rick how to handle his woman. Sarah is Lynn’s sister who hasn’t talked to her in five years, primarily because she slept with many of Lynn’s boyfriends. And then there is the Dreamgirl, who is Lynn after she’s been murdered and is just killing time until she gets murdered again.
If I were to guess, I would proffer that this play is about reality, how fleeting it can be and how difficult it is to capture. No matter what we think, or what we dream at least, there is always a likelihood that we are headed off on a tangent to nowhere.
Kopec, the guiding spirit behind Alchemist, really steps forward with this play, thanks to Sommers and a bright and engaging cast. The language of this play is like something we have all listened to in our lives, and he doesn’t worry about making us understand what’s going on. He just wants us to feel something, and he does.
The two men in the play – Rick played by Joshua Devitt and Jimmy played by Tim Palecek – give striking performances. The identity switches, the staring off into space for no apparent reason and the lectures and resistance to those lectures ring with an amazing clarity thanks to these actors.
Liz Whitford is appropriately uptight and manipulative as Lynn. She moves smoothly from a put-upon angel to a controlling devil with ease.
Sammich Dittloff just about steals the show as Sarah. She is by turns slatternly, lustful, coercive, funny, deadly serious, instructive and demanding. Dittloff has tremendous range and manages to hit all the right notes in this song.
Kelsey Whitford plays the Dreamgirl, a difficult part because of the uncertainty of just who she is or at least who she is supposed to be. But she manages to make her character fit nicely into the whole thing.
There aren’t going to be any spoiler alerts here because this is a play you have to see to believe. Or you just have to see it and not bother about belief.
Suicide Sleep runs through Oct. 30 and showtimes and tickets are available at the Alchemist Theatre.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.