A review of “Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine,” at Annex Theatre in Seattle through March 4.
The spooky and the kooky abound in Annex Theatre’s “Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine,” a fantastic tale haunted by gaunt demons, a mad librarian and a lurking beast named Slither with a taste for blood.
It’s not all otherworldly frights. The depression that afflicts protagonist Mary (Corinne Magin) is an eminently recognizable real-world torment.
As the play gets under way, her roommate and best friend Nell (Kiki Abba) pleads with Mary to come out with her. Mary demurs. She’ll opt for pajamas and staying in with her cat, Alabaster (Carter Rodriquez, puppeteering and more).
‘Scary Mary and the Nightmares Nine’
by Amy Escobar. Through March 4, Annex Theatre, 1100 E. Pike St., Seattle; $5-$20 (206-728-0933 or annextheatre.org).
“I hate everything,” Mary says.
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“I know,” responds Nell with a grin. “That’s why I love you.”
But Mary isn’t joking, even if her acerbic exterior looks like it could be just an act.
Once Mary is alone, a pricked finger awakens a creature in the floorboards, and an ensuing pact with the hellspawn plunges her into a series of nine nightmares, each one representing a journey into some corner of her psyche.
Some of the terrors are elemental — a hungry life-size spider or a horde of advancing hellions on her heels. Some are more existential, like a solitary eternity spent waiting for a flower to bloom.
By the time Mary hits the nightmare where she’s being force-fed sweets by a suddenly malignant Nell, Amy Escobar’s fractured-fairy-tale script is in danger of overdosing on whimsy. Let’s call it the late-period Tim Burton zone.
But “Scary Mary” is propelled along by the singular directorial vision of Eddie DeHais, who excels at creating striking tableaux and evoking remarkably tactile worlds with a combination of ordinary objects and intricate puppets (designed by Ben Burris and Zane Exactly). A roll of string is turned into a snarling spider’s web, while pieces of tulle bathed in blue light become an engulfing sea.
Design elements are not an afterthought here. DeHais also masterminded the set, an eye-catching arrangement of menacingly canted bookshelves full of little surprises. This is the lair of an ominous librarian (Jenn Ruzumna) and her doltish minions (Cody Smith, Jordan Moeller), all three of whom constantly invade Mary’s nightmares from their frame story.
The trio is also responsible for lacing the show with its left-field sense of humor. Why does Moeller lead the ensemble in a tightly choreographed aerobic dance number? Well, why not?
Horror and hilarity are bedfellows in “Scary Mary,” just like they were in 2015’s “Mad Scientist Cabaret” variety show at Annex, co-conceived by DeHais. This venture into narrative storytelling feels like it’s constructed from some of the same ingredients, but that’s hardly dulled DeHais’ free-form sense of imagination.