Wednesday, May 30, 2018

the hollower

I saw Liza Birkenmeier's the hollower three days ago and I have been avoiding writing a review because I don't know what to say. Well, yes, I know that the cast is excellent. And, yes, I know that the writing is often wonderful. But I can't figure out what the damn thing is about, and that's even after reading the script. However, I need to write a review, so here goes.

Patrena Murray, Reyna de Courcy
Photo: Hunter Canning

The show starts with a middle-aged African-American woman staring into a window and maybe talking to herself. This is Otto (Patrena Murray) who is sweet, forgetful, and strangely passive. In totters Bit (Reyna de Courcy), on insanely high heels. Bit lives with Otto. She is white, 16, creative, needy, and damaged; she dresses in bright and odd combinations of clothing and wears candy-colored wigs. The relationship between Otto and Bit is unclear. What is clear is that Bit needs Otto's attention desperately and that Otto gives her as much as she can, in her foggy way. It is not enough for Bit.

Bit is working with Wilkin Rush George III (Samuel Im) on a Claymation project depicting the 17th century Filles du Roi (daughters of the king), hundreds of women sent by the king from France to Canada to populate the territory. Bit is fascinated by them. In fact, she says, "The thing I want like most in the world is to be sent from Paris to seventeenth century Canada and be chosen as a wife by a fur trader." Wilkin, who Bit refers to as "the Polanski of Claymation" just wants the project to help him get into a good college. He says, "Like honestly I’m at the point now where everything pretty much has to be sort of exceptional." Bit wants desperately to be seen and wanted by Wilkin.

Meanwhile, Otto is being visited by the Pigman (Ryan Wesley Stinnett). In the script, he is sort of half-man/half-pig; in the show, he just has a pig hoof instead of his right hand. He just shows up one night and tells her, "We’re doing an expos√© on middle-aged childless single women and we thought we’d get your story, if you don’t mind." Otto doesn't mind; minding anything would take more energy than she can express. The Pigman's silent assistant Missy (ToriAnne DiFilippo) wears a football helmet, dark glasses, and surgical mask.

All of this is true yet tells you nothing about the show. the hollower is odd and fascinating and I'm glad I saw it. But I also ended up dissatisfied. I needed one little tiny hint as to what I was watching. Is it Bit's hallucination? Otto's? Is it metaphorical/symbolic? Is it a statement on need?

In a way, Birkenmeier teases us about what she's doing. Wilkin wants the Claymation project to be more accessible than Bit has planned. He explains, "you have to allow your audience a certain like inkling of familiarity. You can’t just trounce them with one unexpected thing after the other." And then she trounces us with one unexpected thing after the other.

When I saw the hollower, no one laughed, yet it felt like it is maybe meant to be a comedy. Afterward, I asked someone who works at the theatre if people usually laugh, and he said, "Yeah. We could tell early on that this was a tough audience." No doubt my experience would have been significantly different in a more responsive audience.

I do recommend the hollower. If nothing else, I can assure you it is unique. Oh, and thought-provoking. And maybe even funny.

Wendy Caster
(press ticket, third row)
Show-Score: 85

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