Dark secrets in the ’burbs
This genuinely strange little twohander by Trevor Schmidt opens with a stylized family portrait: the perfect 1950s couple, perfectly dressed and perfectly posed, except for the odd sideways flickering of the wife’s eyes. Something terrible has happened in their perfect suburban cul-de-sac. Their kid has mysteriously vanished through the open window of his upstairs bedroom during a cocktail party below.
Loss, grief, mutual accusations would seem to be the story here, at least at first. Iris (Tiana Leonty), the suffocating mom who talks too fast and too much, recalls the day’s details in two entirely opposite ways. Hank (Cody Porter), a man of perfect ’50s sensibility — he calls his son the “little man” and loves having a boy “to teach not to cry and how to box” — remembers the fateful day otherwise. They blame each other for ruining the suburban dream.
The odd path of Schmidt’s play is the way that Iris and Hank’s own glossy ’50s fairy tale turns out to be a version of Hansel and Gretel. Witches lurk at every address; houses are made of gingerbread. Have the parents, like the Woodcutter, sent their own child out into the woods, to be at the mercy of a Witch with come-hither candy? Are Ivy and Hank themselves Hansel and Gretel, perhaps, as they visit their neighbours, unnerved by the dark secrets and mysteries behind every door? There’s a kind of surreal buzz about the ’hood, its marriages, the dynamic of its competing claims of success.
It’s an atmospheric play, directed with high-style flourishes by the playwright. The brittle cordiality of Leonty paired with a kind of thuggish suavity from Porter keeps doubt, and a whole range of sinister possibilities, alive.