Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Christina Rios plays Naomi, a college professor who suddenly stops a student in the midst of his essay in class, where the subject is killing everyone else in his English composition seminar. There ensues a good confrontation about violence in pop culture, which Naomi does not really win. Bradley Rohlf plays the student, Jason, who seems to be just ahead of Naomi every step of the way after that. Career-ending scandal becomes the theme of rest of act one, under the steady, subtle direction of Taylor Gruenloh.
There's a wonderful sense of naturalism heightening the conflictand even a strange, satellite-delay cognition on the part of Mr. Rohlf, as the student. He's a not-quite-there projection, made all the more frightening by his calculated-to-the-angstrom anguish at being censured by his dean. Inevitably, a college grievance committee is scheduled to hear his complaint.
Director Gruenloh is also onstage, as Davis, a young dean of arts and sciences with a predictably complex relationship with Naomi. (It is, therefore, equally complex for his wife.) And, like some multi-tentacled monster from the deep, Jason manages to learn more about his educators than they can about him, to threaten both their careers. Michelle Dillard is also excellent as the chair of the grievance committee, holding each one of the faculty members' decisions up to a bright ethical light.
Off-stage, both Ms. Rios and Mr. Gruenloh are real-life educators, in addition to being constant theater people and producers of their own companies, and somehow there seems to be even more genuine, relaxed realism than usual onstage in this showwhich is perfect, because a horror story requires a baseline of credibility, for every awful thing that must proceed from there.
There are unsettling twists and turnswell, the whole story is a series of unsettling twists and turnsincluding the pleasant/unpleasant manipulations of Davis, a cheating husband, and all the blindside blows that ensue from being "the other woman": Those secret shocks, in scenes apart from the main plot, keep tension alive between ghastly scenes with Jason, where Naomi trusts the man in the middle, who seems perfectly honest in his relationship with her.
Through August 26, 2017, at the .ZACK performance space, 3224 Locust Ave. For more information visit www.tesseracttheatre.org.