How do you shut a mind? Factory449 will expose you to senseless charges, baseless allegations, and brutality in their strikingly disturbing staged adaptation of Closetland written by Radha Bharadwaj. Directed by Rick Hammerly and featuring company members Sara Barker and David Lamont Wilson, this shocking and gut-wrenching political drama permeates deep into the darkened territory of psychological torture. An unforgiving and abrasive script begging to be set in the theatre, the piece is adapted from the movie and presented in the round without an intermission.
Immersion theatre is trending ferociously across the Baltimore and Washington DC metropolitan areas. Fully experiencing a show and all it has to offer is the new vein of artistic exposure. Factory449 has quite the handle on this new fad as it draws Closetland into the secluded and harrowingly intimate confines of the performance space at the Anacostia Arts Center. Transforming the space from an inviting black box to a tormenting prison, Set Designer Greg Stevens builds the audience into the set. The slated metal walls serve as the backdrop to the seating areas bringing theatergoers immediately into the fray of the interrogation. The floor is gray like slate; institutional quality with a starkness that wipes away any trace of identification.
Stevens works with Lighting Designer Dan Covey to further enhance the unsettling atmosphere; industrial style lights perfectly suited for a government facility hang in the four corners of the room with a fifth perched precariously over the central table. These strategic fixture placements create eerie lights and shadows throughout the play’s progression. Covey plays with light and darkness as the themes of the show fondle the subjects; teasing and terrorizing with sharp switches between the two. His glimpses of light in certain moments serve as the only hope to be found at times during the performance’s dark meandering path of no return. Covey’s work should be commended for the precision timing of blackout snaps, particularly when horrific tortures are about to occur.
Tying the distorted and dizzying visual aesthetic together is the unearthly soundscape crafted by Sound Designer Thomas Sowers. The way the doors slam and echo inside the facility or the pulses of electro-current reverberate off the walls stirs jarring emotions to life. It would feel incomplete not to mention Costume Designer Scott L. Hammar here as well, even if the show’s costumes are deceptively simple. The striking white doll dress given to Woman is representative of the innocence that is stolen away in the night. Juxtaposing this against the scandalous yet ordinary black underwear makes a sharp contrast of who Woman is and who they paint her up to be.
Director Rick Hammerly pushes the audience to the edge of their seats with this grisly drama which is equally steeped in psychological terrors as it is physical brutalization. Hammerly finds the epitome of balance between what to show and what is too much, leaving just enough to the audience’s imaginations. In addition to understanding the intimacy of the space, Hammerly executes flawless fight and struggle choreography between his two performers making the violence so intensely authentic that it easily turns the stomach. Evoking raw and haunting moments from both performers, Hammerly succeeds in mounting a truly shocking piece of mind-altering drama.
Sara Barker and David Lamont Wilson carry the show like a burden of fragility between them; each in turn raising the stakes to the situation or to the other person as the script escalates to its drastic conclusion. There is constantly a dynamic shift of tension and eruption between the pair. Barker never misses a beat, and although Wilson is exceptional in the role, a great deal of his emotional outbursts tend to peak early into the moment that they occur.
Wilson delivers an exceptionally calculated performance; the nuance of meticulousness etched into his gait as he strides about the room in a precise and plotted fashion. There is a deep intensity burbling beneath the surface; a ruthlessness that comes seeping out through his pores. The many-faces scene where Wilson unveils a crucial plot point is so jarring that it exhilarates and sickens simultaneously. His consistency with the character’s main persona is impeccable; his tone never truly raising, his stoic methodic delivery further haunting both Barker’s character and the situation.
Barker takes the audience on a journey through her experience; anxiety, frustration, terror, defiance— all encapsulated in a little over an hour. Almost never leaving the stage, Barker’s endurance is impressive, her persona ever-present even when distant in moments of introspective pensieve consideration. Her narration of the “Closetland” segment when she wanders off into the harsh blue light in the corner is almost inhuman; a memory forced from a hallow shell and it sparks unpleasant sensations aplenty in this moment. With vivid facial expressions that often reflect confusion, terror, and desperation, Barker tells the story line by line and drags the audience down with her, kicking and screaming to the tune of a resistant revolutionary.
Stomach the graphic nature, digest the taboo notions; they can break your body but they cannot shut down your mind with this electrifyingly intense and horrifically passionate production of Closetland.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes with no intermission
Closetland plays through May 10, 2015 at Factory 449: A Theatre Collective at the Anacostia Arts Center— 1231 Good Hope Road SE in Washington, DC. Tickets are available for purchase at the door or in advance online.