The Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “Raised in Captivity,” running through Saturday at the Loeb Ex, can be classified as absurdist realism. The two words— “absurdist” and “realism”—create a paradox, and indeed, though the play’s characters struggle with realistic, universal problems, they are the victims of the oddest circumstances. The play walks the fine line between lunacy and rationality. The result is a production that hovers above reality—sharp, darkly humorous, but intellectually abstract. “Raised in Captivity” runs the risk of being potentially inaccessible, but deft staging decisions by director Lily R. Glimcher ’14 ground the play, making it an amusing, worthwhile experience accentuated by spectacular work on the part of the cast.
After their mother dies of an improbable accident with a showerhead, twins Bernadette (Susanna B. Wolk ’14) and Sebastian (Teis D. Jorgensen ’14) reunite after years of separation. The after effects of their mother’s death set in motion a sequence of events that irrevocably change the path of each siblings’ lives. They are forced to confront their broken relationship as well as the progression of things around them after years of blissful, ignorant stasis.
A major theme of the show is the interplay between the internal mind and external world; it’s a difficult concept to portray visually, but Glimcher and co-set designer Daniel J. Prosky ’16 imagine an area of space that flows seamlessly between these two worlds. The stage consists of large, black geometric pieces strategically placed to create different height levels. The rigid lines of the set pieces—in addition to the fact that each piece does not seem to represent any recognizable object—ensure the expansiveness of the play’s visual environment. At one moment, the blocks function as a tangible sofa, and the next, they seamlessly transform into the inner-landscape of a character’s thoughts. This fluidity lends the play a sense of continuity.
Glimcher’s blocking, as well as the lighting designed by Garrett C. Allen ’16 and Max R. McGillivray ’16, at times accents the differences between the physical exterior and mental interior and other times blurs the two thematic elements. When Sebastian is cut in the throat after an ill-advised foray with prostitute, Roger (Eli Wilson Pelton ’16), Sebastian’s dead mother, Miranda (Dorothy C. Donelan ’14), comes to him in his delirium. She enters from the side with blue light shining on her while Sebastian is bathed in yellow light. She is at a sizeable distance, kept to the very side of the stage, until the separation between the two is broken. She comes to Sebastian, invading his designated space, and the two lights mesh together. The question is presented to the audience: is it a hallucination or a soul from the afterlife? Realistically, the audience is inclined to believe the former, but Gilmcher does her best to make the answer as unclear as possible. Gilmcher allows room for interpretation, and this flexibility serves the play well.
Vivacious and deeply committed, Donelan, who in addition to playing Sebastian’s mother also portrays Sebastian’s psychiatrist Hilary, shines the brightest among a very talented group of actors. Hilary is a unique character because she doesn’t quite fit in the landscape of the play. In a group of strange, deeply troubled characters, she emerges as the most zealous of the bunch. She is deeply self-destructive and at one point has a fit of self-hating guilt, but is still inherently pathetic in her quest for some misguided redemption. Donelan plays her with a self-awareness while still retaining a sense of desperation that makes Hilary both a tragic and comedic character. When Sebastian informs Hilary that he will no longer be going to see her, Donlan’s transformation from a soft-spoken, reserved psychiatrist to an unhinged women begging her former client not to leave is nothing short of spectacular.
The whole cast puts up an exceptional performance, with impressive shifts between comedic and dramatic. Wolk portrays Bernadette with the right amount of neuroticism and rationalism, and Andrew J. Boyd ’14, plays Kip, Bernadette’s husband, with a fitting air of dopiness and idealism. Jorgenson adeptly shows the multiple sides of Sebastian, who closes himself off from the world while at the same time hoping for love, especially when he interacts with Dylan—an ex-convict played by Pelton—with heartbreaking humanity.
Full of twists and turns, “Raised in Captivity” will cause emotional whiplash at first viewing. It may not be the easiest play to swallow, but the excellent performances of the actors and superb lighting and set design are on point. Glimcher does a tremendous job of creating a production that leaves cause for reflection long after the lights dim.
—Staff writer Neha Mehrotra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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