Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Mothers and Sons
You know this woman: takes her job very seriously, doesn't brook any insurrection on the job, and won't suffer fools gladly.
But there are also the mental logjams that freeze her face like a vaguely troubled mask, and odd silences that may be secret moments of doubt in her hard-driving life. What's really going on with her?
Cuddles is one of those shows that is short on the clock, but somehow unfolds as a great emotional saga during performance. Like Dr. Who's phone booth, it's a lot bigger on the inside. Joseph Wilde debuted his hour-and-twenty minute play in 2011, and Nicole Kidman has reportedly optioned the script to be made into a movie.
Here, in SATE Ensemble Theatre's production, Joe Hanrahan directs with great attention to character and nuance, in partnership with two extremely able and adept young actresses, Ellie Schwetye and Rachel Tibbetts: as Tabitha (the career woman) and Eve, her sister, who is locked away like the madwoman in Jane Eyre. The high white gothic altar of the stage here (at "The Chapel on Alexander") beautifully accentuates the bedtime story mood, and the ragged backdrop suggests ruin and chaos.
You could take it all at face value, as a story of a hard driven older sister who also happens to be an exhausted caregiver. But then you'd probably have to take the "other circumstances" as literal too: that Eve's a vampire, locked away in a storybook castle. Some of it works as metaphor, or all of it could be a mosaic of competing and contrasting statements on modern life. Or (maybe) all of it is true. And that's what makes it such a great puzzle to play with, through all the harrowing developments.
Whether things are dark, or darkly funny, from moment to moment, we go rummaging madly through a human soul, and come to an astonishing sense of peace with our own worst workplace bosses along the way. Each woman is pushed to the extremes of identityTabitha (Tabby) is the lonely breadwinner who's forced to make some very painful decisions as her own happiness seems more and more remote; and Eve is a teenager who's never seen the day, lest she burn. And she craves blood.
It reminds me a bit of Rona Munro's Bold Girls, where the characters are squeezed between all the hard and fast realities. In Cuddles, Eve may just be another facet of Tabby. But even if she's not, she's certainly been made into a huge, awkward accessory.
Either way, there's that missing part of Tabby, not quite present. And whether that mystery is represented by this particular vampire in the attic, Mr. Rochester's first wife, or the Bold Girls's thieving Irish waitress, each of their roles on the scene seems far from accidental.
Cuddles, SATE Ensemble Theatre, through November 12, 2016 at the Chapel on Alexander. For more information visit www.slightlyoff.org .