Without ghosts or monsters: “Recall”

Recall is the kind of simply staged yet powerful, chilling theatre we’ve come to expect from the Visceral Company.

recall

Madeline Bertani, Karen Nicole

Unlike their long-running Lovecraft: Nightmare Suite, this quiet play sends its tremors through us without ghosts or monsters.  More like Visceral’s recent stunner Kill Me, it starts with an  unadorned image of contemporary life.  Recall then shifts our familiar world — a motel room, an apartment, a school, a clinic — slightly into the future.  Or, if we’re lucky, into a parallel universe we may manage to avoid.

Playwright Eliza Clark (The Metaphysics of Breakfast) lays out her story with swift economy.  Master director Dan Spurgeon lets the dystopia’s disturbing differences emerge organically, as conditions the characters must live with.  And we silently recognize, step by step, how close we are to making their cruel world our own.

Recall is powered by some remarkable acting.  As Lucy, Madeline Bertani (who seems to have channeled the young Christina Ricci)  sustains a dead-on portrait of a wry, gifted girl gamely confronting adolescence — with one flawed gift that poisons her bouquet.   She wins our empathy without asking for it, a fierce Ophelia born into a state where something is indeed rotten.

As Lucy’s mother, Karen Nicole creates an equally sympathetic and  unnerving character — a determined but overwhelmed single parent who looks for trust  in all the wrong faces, holding tight to her child as she swims against the crushing tide of a system that knows what’s best.  And Kevin Grossman wonderfully inhabits the gentle, geeky goth Quinn, who shyly offers Lucy the only friendship she finds.

Mark Souza, as the double agent David, nicely handles the challenge of a man who lives only in the moment, stripped of the memories by which we shape our selves.  And Lara Fisher offers a sticky clinician who has gained power over others’ lives by learning to mimic people who actually have emotions.

A couple of notes were less-than-perfectly struck.  In the performance I saw, the clever device of a second playing area behind doors was undercut by some hinges not working well.  And Fisher’s mask of sanity was slightly chipped by chirpiness, when it might be more fearsome if it were smoother.

But these were tiny surface nicks on a polished, powerful production.   Chris Bell’s flexible design creates a clean, prosaic world we immediately recognize, and Pam Noles’ costumes add to the discomfort of the familiar.  Joshua Burton’s lighting and Tyler Burton’s soundtrack lead us seamlessly into the deepening darkness.

Recall calls us to mourn and decry a horror, while making us unable to hate any of the human beings enmeshed in it.  We end in tears, not anger, unable to hate them because we are them, and they are us.

In doing this, Recall deftly accomplishes the task of tragedy.  It moves us to pity and terror, and bids us take warning not to let our world slip into theirs.  Don’t miss your chance.

__________
Recall, by Eliza Clark, directed by Dan Spurgeon, produced by The Visceral Company.

At the Lex Theatre, Lexington and McCadden Sts., Hollywood.  Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, through May 4.

Tickets at: <www.thevisceralcompany.com>