Actors! Bless ‘em. What they won’t agree to do when asked. Take the always reliably wonderful Alison Fraser. She’s now appearing at Theatre Row’s Beckett in Squeamish, which Aaron Mark has written and directed.
For the monologue Fraser sits for more than 90 minutes in a club chair next to a table on which is a lamp and a cup of supposed coffee. As Sharon, a psychotherapist she has prevailed on Dr. Schneider, her therapist, for a medically unusual wee-hours session. The reason is she’s just returned from an immensely troubling trip.
Speaking volubly and non-stop in a somewhat high-pitched and nervously driven voice—and never leaving the chair on its riser under set designer Sarah Johnston’s dim and concentrated lighting—Sharon recounts what she encountered when attending her nephew Eddy’s funeral in the Southwest.
Eddy was Sharon’s sister Becky’s son, although it’s Eddy’s girlfriend Cara with whom she spent most of her post-funeral time. Eddy, by the way, was found dead in a tub after evidently slicing himself many times with a scalpel.
Having established that something more than Eddy’s death occurred on the fevered journey, Sharon recounts sympathetic Cara’s attempts to comfort her. The calming involved Cara’s taking Sharon to visit a friend where the chat centered on the body’s humors and what were identified as sanguinaries.
‘Sanguinaries, according to Sharon (there does seem to be a religious cult connected with the term in real life) are people for whom drinking blood leaking from shallow cuts in the flesh is a restorative. Don’t you know that Cara turns out to be one of the dedicated followers?
At this point, anyone reading this review may leap to the conclusion that Sharon’s tale is one of Anne-Rice-like vampires. Sharon puts the kibosh on that, however, denying that vampires have anything to do with the narrative.
Sitting in the chair, gesticulating and running her hands through her agitated blond tresses, Fraser increasingly does recount a story that does take on the air of something that opened up would be right at home on American Horror Story. (Perhaps that’s where playwright Mark hopes it will end up.)
So there Fraser is, taking on an actor’s challenge that’s also a challenge for the audience. Squeamish is right. As she goes on in a piece that has the flavor of something a leering camp counselor might import to trembling youngsters around a campfire, it’s a challenge for auditors to hang in there. That’s as it becomes clearer what Sharon’s disturbing experience is—and then becomes even increasingly obvious where the cold-blooded-warm-blooded recitation is going.
Fraser clings on to the telling as Dracula might after having sunk his teeth into Lucy’s neck. She’s committed to the script whether or not the audience is beginning to lose patience.
What playwright wouldn’t be grateful to her? Mark must be in awe not only for her commitment as actor but undoubtedly for her being able to perform as her own director every time she sits down in that chair and goes through Sharon’s sanguinary journey yet again.
Iris Bahr only takes about an hour to spin her account of Mrs. Schwartz, her daughter Isabel, their estate lawyer, the doorman at Mrs. Schwartz’s building and one or two others in I Lost You There, which she wrote and Andrew Russell directs. Bahr, whom many may know from the “Preggo Tips” she dispenses on YouTube, has the gift of combining intelligence with hilarity. Here, she dispenses the enviable gift in huge dollops.
With her hair slicked back and wearing black, she paces in front of several outfits (designed by Rachel Schapiro) hanging behind her to indicate which character is speaking.
Asa Lipton lights them individually and therefore is a great help. It’s a nice amenity, of course, but hardly obligatory, since Bahr is so adroit at accents. Indeed, she may have dreamed up the character array to show off the range of her talent for imitation.
Truth is, whereas so many sketches of this sort go on beyond their welcome—even in today’s seemingly formulaic in-quick-out-quick 90-minuters—Bahr, at The Cherry Lane Theatre, hews to an almost forgotten show-biz rule: Always leave them wanting more.