by Mitchell Conway · August 23, 2015
David Logan Rankin | Suzanne Savoy
A terrifying nursery-rhyme, Night with Guests is some of the strongest work I’ve yet seen in fringeNYC. Its cohesive vision and distinctive style, all spoken in rhythm with music, brought me deep down its dark turns. We are held throughout with the threat of deadly violence.
A robber enters a family’s home. The Man goes outside to retrieve promised gold for the thief. The Wife and children wait with the knife-wielding robber as he counts down the allotted time for the Man’s return. We don’t know whether he has fled and abandoned his family, gone off to get help from authorities risking the robber’s wrath, is laying some other trap, or is lugging the casket of gold. The Guest stares off through the audience counting to himself, his expression changing and we are unsure where his thoughts are going as the family desperately offers him a life with them. The children ask him to be their new father. The Wife offers herself and her family to the Guest. The Guest refuses to put his knife away. Warner arrives at the door, an authority of some type…but I will not reveal the turns the story takes; its high stakes never let up.
When I read the description as a ‘children’s nightmare’ I thought it might be a show for children with some ‘monsters’ veering on playful and goofy; this is no children’s monster tale: its an overwhelming horror. Bloodstone Theatricals describes it as “medieval German fairground kabuki.”
It is precisely written by Peter Weiss, renowned for Marat/Sade, utilizing repetition and description that makes it feel like it comes from a child’s mind. The director’s note mentions that the play was written partially as a response to Weiss’ experience growing up during the Nazi rise to power in Germany in a Jewish family. The translation by Laurence Dobie is wonderfully simple, sustaining the tension in its meter and rhyme.
David Logan Rankin is imposing and frightening as the Guest. The wicked glare in his eyes, met by the family’s wide-eyed dread, shows anything horrible is possible. Ethan Angelica as the Man shows timidity and simplicity. Mary C. Davis, and Jack Herholdt often speak simultaneously as the two children, and both take on innocence movingly. Mel House shows fright and courage as the Wife offering herself to her home’s invader, attempting to secure her children’s safety. Evan Zes arrives as Warner with an ambiguous presence; the children keep mentioning Peter Wright, supposedly in a red shirt, a guardian of some type they hope might come to rescue them. We (and the children) are unsure whether Warner is this hero.
I was tense and anxious for the fate of the family. Juan Herrera’s sharp percussion, varying subtly, rattling in fills, supported the spoken melodic idiosyncrasies and overall on-edge atmosphere. The focus is often on a dangerous knife wielded by the Guest. He sharpens it with a clink on his thigh. There is abstracted dance-fight choreography, with grunts and footsteps musically aligned.
Director Bill Burford renders this macabre fable with energetic, biting euphony. The costumes by Suzanne Savoy supports our immersion in an older world.
Whatever category the style of Night with Guests belongs in, you step into the world of children scared for their lives. Without shock gimmicks, this is horror.