Perfectly timed to usher in Halloween, the local premiere of Cory Finley’s 2015 dark comedic thriller “The Feast” launches millennial-driven Playground Theatre’s fourth season beginning Thursday, Oct. 25 in the PNC Arts Annex.
Co-directed by Playground founders Jenna Valyn and Christopher Hahn, the play concerns the ghastly and strange sounds inhabiting the sewer under Matt and Anna’s apartment. Getting to the root of what is real fuels the script’s mystery and inherent secrecy. Here are five reasons why you should catch this eerie show produced by one of the most exciting, forward-thinking troupes in town.
A FASCINATING TALE OF FEAR AND THE MIND
According to Valyn, the unexplainably perplexing sounds Matt hears lead him to seriously question his relationships and conversations. In fact, the play supplies a unique look at mental illness and fear.
“How this play presents mental illness is unlike anything I’ve seen on stage,” she said. “It is more along the lines of what I’ve seen in horror films such as ‘The Babadook.’ This play is very much about what ‘the monster,’ mental illness, represents to an individual person. How mental illness and personal struggles manifests in someone’s life. When you’re a child, you’re afraid of the monsters in your closet or under your bed, but when you’re an adult those demons sort of morph into inner demons and this play blends those worlds together, which is what I love about it the most.”
“You don’t find many horror-themed plays that feel genuinely frightening,” echoed A.J. Breslin, who plays Matt and was seen last season in Playground’s “Tape” and “The Tutors.” “There are (frightening) moments in ‘Woman in Black’ or ‘Wait Until Dark,’ but not many plays actually take advantage of how you can use theater to scare an audience.”
Muse Machine alum Phillip Drennen, a Playground newcomer notably seen last season as Michael in Dare to Defy Productions’ “Tick, Tick … Boom!,” adds to Matt’s anxieties in multiple roles including his therapist. “I represent different versions of people in Matt’s life,” he said. “Every time the audience sees me they’ll see different versions of Matt, particularly how he acts out in society, how he acts in his home with a stranger or with a colleague he’s known for years.”
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ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF WHAT THE PLAYGROUND DOES BEST
Valyn and Hahn anticipate varied reactions to “The Feast,” but steadfastly believe the play represents the Playground’s mission to stage works reflecting humanity at its ugliest or most complex.
“It’s sad to watch Matt go through his journey but there is still a feeling of absurdity which makes it funny,” Hahn said. “I’m actually interested in finding out when the audience will laugh.”
“It will be very interesting to see whether the audience will accept the show as a horror or a dark comedy,” added Rae Buchanan, who plays Anna and was seen opposite Breslin and Hahn in “Tape.”
“We’re always looking for realistic, human stories of struggle we’ve all dealt in some way,” Valyn said. “We want our shows to be entertaining, we want to make people laugh, but we also want people to feel, connect and see themselves in the characters. We want to create a universal experience.”
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ENTICING, UNSETTLING MUSIC
Setting the proper mood is a key component to Playground’s pedigree. Spotify playlists have been the norm, but in a first for the troupe, original music will be heard. Skyler McNeely, marvelous last season as sensitive Toby in “The Tutors,” has composed an intriguing soundscape.
“The scope and tone are pretty eclectic,” he said. “There will be Gothic tones, some atonal noise and textures, and even some slight nods to classic 1980s horror we all know and love. I’m (combining) all (these elements) together into what I hope will be a very immersive and sonic experience for the audience. The score (also) acts like a sort of Greek chorus that follows Matt’s emotional, mental and physical state. We wanted the music to emulate what he is experiencing whether sadness, mania or even complete awe. But underneath it all is this deep fear and terror that builds throughout the show.”
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In this one-act play, Matt is a painter. Fittingly, the Playground has assembled a group of local artists to provide original artwork. “Our plan is to run a silent auction during performances where patrons can bid on pieces of art,” Valyn said. “The hope is that any money raised will go to a charity that supports mental health.”
NEW PLAY, NEW SPACE
Playground, formerly housed in the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center, has the auspicious privilege of opening the Victoria Theatre Association’s PNC Arts Annex, a venue devoted to programming and arts education for all ages and cultures. Due to ongoing construction, patrons should expect a “soft opening,” but Valyn and Hahn are eager and grateful to begin a new chapter in a new space.
“It’s such an honor for us to be the first company to be in the Arts Annex,” Valyn said. “Normally when you perform at local theaters you’re standing in a space where so many amazing things have happened and you’re feeling that energy. But we’re in a brand new space, there’s no other energy, so we’re literally creating that energy.”
IF YOU GO
What: "The Feast"
Where: PNC Arts Annex, Second and Ludlow Streets, Dayton
When: Oct. 25-28; 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: Call Ticket Center Stage at call (937) 228-3630 or visit ticketcenterstage.com
FYI: A special pay-what-you-can preview will be held Wednesday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. A $5 donation is encouraged. A talkback will immediately follow the performance.
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