Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Philip Geller
Presented by ABBEDAM
Two sisters in increasingly perilous situations star in this year’s ABBEDAM production. But what’s more terrifying for them — the mysterious Skriker that stalks them or the stilted production that they find themselves in?
The Skriker is a celebrated play written by British playwright Caryl Churchill. It tells the story of two sisters who slowly find themselves getting drawn into the strange and horrifying world of an ancient fairy — the Skriker. The Skriker is also ABBEDAM’s (an anagram of the letters of BA, BEd, and MA) chosen play for their yearly production. ABBEDAM; a student-run drama organization that brings together the dramatic talents of students within BA, BEd, and MA drama programs; tackles the convoluted material of Caryl Churchill with verve, but does not always succeed in bringing her vision to life.
The Skriker opens in a mental institution where two sisters, Lily and Josie, discuss their lives and their differences. Lily, pregnant with her first child, tries to help Josie cling to reality. Unbeknownst to Lily, however, Josie is already caught up in the Skriker’s embrace. In an act of desperation, Josie wishes the Skriker to follow Lily instead of her, resulting in an odd and terrifying journey that takes the audience through fiction and reality, the strange and the unexplainable, and the innocence of childhood and motherhood.
The two female leads, Josie and Lily, played by Mackenzie Ireland-Peterson and Shyanne Duquette, expertly keep the audience’s attention throughout the play. They give wonderful performances and truly convey the depth of their character’s emotions. But the true star of the play is the four-person ensemble that makes up the Skriker. The Skriker, played collectively by Michelle Robb, Piper Zbryski-Livingstone, Claudia Kulay, and Catrina Rose Bowlen, is a magnetic figure that constantly demands the stage throughout the entire play. Every aspect of the Skriker is engaging, entrancing, and an absolute joy to view in action. But the expert performances of The Skriker’s cast, both main and ensemble, highlights the biggest issue of the production: the acting is head and shoulders above anything else in the play.
The play itself is very strange, which in and of itself is never a bad thing. But the strangeness of The Skriker never has any true payoff. Awkward directorial choices, like far-spreading scene set-ups in emotionally charged moments, as well as awkward exits or breaks in action, prevent The Skriker from achieving its full potential. Some missed cues and some rather odd set changes also contribute to a disjointed feeling within the production. Though there are some standout scenes like the truly wonderful banquet-in-Hell-scene they cannot make up for the over-abundance of stilted scenes that permeate throughout the play. One such scene, where Lily stands surrounded by a crowd of fantastical creatures, has many actors just hovering around cumbersomely and doing nothing. It’s an unnatural setup and one that does not do justice to the cast’s incredible talents. The Skriker also suffers from poor prop set-up, which distracts from the main action. There were many instances where props, such as a curtain prop representing falling water, came into view much sooner than they should have. These instances took away from the experience and made some aspects of the play come off as clumsy and cumbersome.
Overall, ABBEDAM does a good job at attempting to produce The Skriker. When the production hits its stride, such as during emotionally charged character moments and the aforementioned dinner-in-Hell scene, it’s wonderful. But these moments are too few and far between within the overall production. Most of the time, the viewer is left with disjointed scenes, stilted character configurations, poor directorial choices, and an overall feeling of strangeness that never quite pays off. So if you love to watch amazing performances in a not-so-great play, check out ABBEDAM’s production — that’s exactly what it delivers.