Review: Wail by Gale Theatre Company
by Michael Meigs

Like all black box theatres, the playing space at the Vortex is vibrant with possibilities. It resembles Hamlet’s walnut:"I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space." And it’s subject to the same proviso: "Were it not that I had bad dreams!"

In their performance of Wail Gale Theatre Company, devotees of devised theatre, explore bad dreams with a spooky, kinetic ferocity.  Mary Catherine’s perched onstage as the audience files in, offering us an uneasy smile.  Behind her against the blank black background is a wall composed of old-fashioned venetian blinds, firmly closed.  Once we’re settled, she addresses some other unseen person, and we quickly understand that she’s in a waiting room.  Something undefined but definitely medical is going on.  She has just enough time for a few apologetic hi-how-are-you phrases,a  one-way conversation betraying her nervousness, before she’s called away.

Away to where?  Another disturbing world comes exploding through those blinds and into our faces.  Was she seeking an abortion?  Was she expecting to be confined to an institution?  In the scant hour that follows in the sealed room established by those blinds, she finds herself subject to a vigorous but inexplicable regimen.  Rhythm, ritual, obedience; Kimberly Gifford plays the woman orienting her to expected routines but never explaining where they are or why.  One male resident (Tim Mateer) seems to be a manic mute given to obsessive-compulsive routines, another (Ja’Michael Darnell) is cheerful but unquestioning, bereft of individual thought.  Olivia Jimenez is credited in the program as the mysterious 'killer' - but where was she?

Mary Catherine (photo: Susan Bennett)

Work ritual is imposed.  The characters move paper, exchanging folders in intense, accelerating and tightly choreographed routines.  Repeatedly.  With variations in the paper flow. No folders are opened, no secrets revealed.

Gifford relates a phantasmagorical parable of a woman seduced and betrayed by the trees in the forest.  The vividly poetical passage stands out as an eloquent parable elucidating nothing.

Mary Catherine wants out, throughout, but there seems to be no exit at all.  The climax or crisis is a banquet that degenerates into a sticky, messy, noisy food orgy.  Eventually, eventually, the action ebbs away, and we’re returned to the first scene, with Mary Catherine’s plaintive small talk.

Wail carries you along with its wild flow of events, intensely visual and rhythmic.  Patrick Anthony’s lighting flashes, lashes, modulates, and accentuates the unreal nature of it all, and Mobley’s music provides the determinate thrum and thrust throughout.

Ja'Michael Darnell, Kimberley Gifford (photo: Susan Bennett)

The company’s devising is deliberately enigmatic, susceptible to any number of interpretations.  We may be witnessing the protagonist’s mental breakdown and retreat into an imagined world; equally, the performance may be a cry of distress at the pressures to come to terms with independent adulthood in an uncaring world.  Perhaps it’s a cry against the limitations of our materialistic consumer society (gobs of slippery slimy chocolate cake disfigure the characters, and their rampaging across the banquet table sends crumbs, dibs and dabs flying into the ‘splash zone’ of the front row).  The simplest interpretation could be summed up with the epigram from Sartre’s No Exit: “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”

Whatever gales are buffeting these characters, the storm’s an absorbing, disquieting sight, delivered to you by athletic, disciplined players intent on showing/telling you something that they consider extremely important.  Make of it what you will; you’ll find it anything but tedious.


Wail
Gale Theatre Company

October 31 - November 15, 2014
Vortex Repertory Theatre
2307 Manor Road
Austin, TX, 78722

When: October 31- November 15, Thursday- Sunday, 8pm
Tickets: Available at http://wail.bpt.me/ or 512-478-5282
Cost: $10-$30 Sliding Scale; $30 Priority Seating. $20 General Admission. $10 Artists/Students