When a Holden Caulfield-type arsonist with a lot of ideas about creative destruction stares into the middle distance and says in a creepy voice, "Those who don't eat get eaten; those who don't burn get burned," and this a few days after 43 bodies burned in the hellfire of double-suicide attacks in Beirut, a few days after bullets blasted the brains out of 129 heads in Paris, it's hard not to throw your hands up and say, "Fuuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuu, dude. I've had enough of this flaming sword bullshit for the week. I'm outta here."
But you can't leave. You're stuck. Theater sticks you there, makes you sit with your discomfort. (Unless, of course, you're our esteemed Editor-in-Chief.)
This is especially true of Splinter Group's production of Fireface. The performance takes place in a house—mostly in the dining room of a house—in West Seattle, accessible only by tour bus. And in the show I saw, the tour bus driver was in the audience. I couldn't leave if I wanted to.
So I had to stew in my inability to stand up, crack open a can of Diet Coke, and start dadsplaining all the ways to fix the family breaking down two feet away from my face. The impotence I felt in the face of the characters' problems aligned with my feelings of impotence re: global terrorism. We can't just get on a plane and tell the economically depressed, sexually frustrated, and religiously brainwashed young men of ISIS to stop trying to kill everybody. And we certainly can't burn and blast our way out of the problem, either.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The play's premise is this: Olga and Kurt are going through one hell of a puberty. Their pre-teen rebellion manifests as incest, dramatic and heady diatribes about the humiliation of birth, Children of the Corn hijinks, and serial arson. Their distant but hyper-rational father and their wonderful, caring mother are powerless against the plate-breaking adolescent rage these kids display.
As I mentioned earlier, getting to the house where all this takes place is a bit of a process. The audience meets up at a park and ride on Airport Way S. There, a bus—driven by the coolest Seahawks fan I've ever met (I'm serious, I love this guy)—shuttles everyone to the house. The trip's not long, and there's a nice view of the skyline beneath an overpass and also a peak at the brontosauruses lording over the port.
Director Paul Budraitis then ushers everyone inside and instructs all to sit on cushions arranged along the wall in the dining room. (You want the bench seat by the windows—the spots on the floor looked uncomfortable, but looking up at the actors from the floor, as if you the family's unacknowledged baby or toddler, might feel more immersive and thus enrich the experience for you.)
The shuttle situation and the weird seats estrange the traditional "en route to the thea-tah!" experience, and so aid the process of immersion. Being in an actual house affords weird angles you'd never have access to on a stage—e.g. fireglow entering from an open door behind you—which make for gorgeous, intimate moments. And when I try to remember the play, the scenes register more like memories of lived experience than other plays do. The two teens in the play felt like my idiot siblings. (JK, I <3 u you guys.)
However, the house's interior didn't project a sterile and vapid home environment against which Kurt and Olga's revolt and mayhem might make more emotional sense. A large, copper light fixture dominates the dining room, for instance. Talk before the show revealed IKEA and not some vintage trailer in Portland as the fixture's origin, but, still, vaguely hip vibes prevail. Otherwise, the house is warm and welcoming. The place reminded me of the womb the kids seek to return to, and so it was hard to buy their need to escape.
Though bits of the set worked against the immersive intentions, the actors, for the most part, successfully pulled you into their world. Skylar Tatro's rapid but warm speaking voice brought out Olga's seductive and darkly humorous sides, complicating her pure-rage interior. Matt Aguayo cooly seethed as Kurt, though often projected brattiness where it might have been better to project creepy flatness. And I couldn't stop looking at CT Doescher, who played the wormy, ineffectual father, Hugh. His facial contortions embodied the twisted logic he uses to distance himself from the family's affairs.
If you're really into dark shit about the essential evil within us all (or if you want to exercise your feeling of hopelessness in the face of murderous and pernicious ideologies) then go see this play this weekend. Hurry and get your tickets, too—only 14 people can go to each performance.