A review of Caryl Churchill's "The Skriker," the story of a shape-shifting being chasing two teens in London, being staged at Erickson Theatre through Nov. 11, 2012.

Share story

Like a Victorian horror story in which barriers collapse between everyday life and a hidden reality of dark marvels, Caryl Churchill’s 1994 play “The Skriker” is about worlds bleeding into one another.

In a visionary new production of the play at the Erickson Theatre, we see that blurring in the way ordinary people coexist with fairy-tale creatures rooted in folklore — bogles, pixies, kelpies and elves. But it is also in the manner humans release their own destructive demons on the vulnerable (children, the environment) while, conversely, murderous mischief-makers from the underworld reveal their desperation for understanding and survival. Language is clouded, too, in Churchill’s extraordinary, free-associating dialogue for the title character, a frail shape-shifter with a (literal or figurative) hunger for human babies.

But this is no Halloween fare. Churchill, the much-respected and provocative English playwright who marries the political with the experimental, has in “The Skriker” a challenging work that pushes the boundaries of audience perception as well as story logic.

Producer-director Janice Findley and choreographer Pat Graney partially realize Churchill’s bifurcated approach to her bursting, nonlinear story — half dialogue-driven, half wordless movement — with a thrilling, kaleidoscopic dream of fantastic characters enacting various Jungian dramas. The passion and violence of such mysterious figures as Raw Head and Bloody Bones, Man with Bucket and Deformed Girl are feverishly captured in dance and mime. As a frayed but still formidable death portent, Mary Ewald displays dazzling control over torrents of fractured, punning wordplay. Prepare to shiver at such unsettling phrases as “snap, crackle and poppet” or feel your head spin with the likes of “meet me after the show me what you’ve got.”

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Part of “The Skriker’s” novelty is in its sketchy text requiring a director to flesh out much of the narrative in her own voice and time, i.e., to do more than interpret.

This Capitol Hill show’s high ambitions embrace the wonders and ironies in Churchill’s mysterious, volatile circus. But they also underscore an unwieldiness built into the play: the way the key story of the Skriker’s attachment to two teenage girls (Jessica Martin, Mariel Neto) — one who killed her baby, the other pregnant — vanishes for long stretches, breaking a flow. If there’s no way around that structural problem, at least Findley leaps to unfettered intuition: a hellishly elaborate demon feast; a dancer who never stops moving; the way the Skriker’s cry (“Nobody loves me and the sun’s going to kill me”) seems embodied in the set’s decaying trees.

Pervasive magic is afoot in “The Skriker” — and so is chaos.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.