Artistic Skills Mark Unleashed’s “Ligature”

Ligature Marks, a deftly written play, imagines the perfect murder in a totally new way.  The production just opened at Theatre Unleashed’s Belfry in NoHo gives it a pair of uncommonly skillful performances.

The story’s not an easy one, though it looks simple enough at first.
Two young adults, loosely attached to the world, are set to resume the affair they were having before he spent two years in prison.

Or are they?  Except for his online role-playing game, Terry’s fiercely ambivalent about attachment.  Jill’s obsessed with him, and adept at tossing hooks to make him stay.  Will he?  Should he?  Should she?

Liz Fenning, Sean Fitzgerald

Liz Fenning, Sean Fitzgerald

Playwright Mac Rogers, whose Viral just ran at The Bootleg (see my review below), is adroit at creating characters and dialog.  Moments after we meet these two, we’re laughing — not at sitcom jokes, but at remarks rich with irony because they don’t know themselves as well as we already do.

It’s comedy, but it’s Guys and Dolls on psychotropics — a high-anxiety guy somewhere on the schizoaffective spectrum, and a nervous doll who inspires memories of Chucky.  The rom-com ingredients are pushed to such a pathological level here that no happy ending seems possible, or even desirable.

Nonetheless, Rogers finds a clever way to take us on the journey, through layer after layer of a tale built like a Chinese box puzzle.
His tale requires the actors to keep adding new characters atop the old, while letting the earlier ones still peek through.

Sean Fitzgerald and Liz Fenning rise to the challenge admirably.
His Terry, though alarmingly volatile, is so vulnerable we can’t help but feel for him; her Jill instantly wins us, then holds our loyalty even when she dances scarily into dangerous.

Then, upon these gelatinous foundations, they build several further characters — each well realized, often hilarious, but with revealing cracks through which Terry and Jill can still be glimpsed, locked in their urgent pas de deux.   These are two remarkable performances, Fenning’s in particular a comic tour de force.

Credit must also go to director Jacob Smith, whose work with these two actors is so complete as to seem invisible.  The meticulous set design (also by Smith) quietly tells us all we need to know about Jill, and Gregory Crafts’ lighting leads us unobtrusively from mood to mood, world to world.  Cameron Stark’s understated, flexible costumes mark each character as accurately as their dialog.

Theatre Unleashed has been around awhile, but a couple of years in their loft at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church seems to have helped them find –and sustain — a new level of artistry.  Their production of Ligature Marks yields a delightfully discomforting evening, and shows a very talented company at the top of their game.
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Ligature Marks by Mac Rogers, directed by Jacob Smith.
Presented by Theatre Unleashed, at The Belfry, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (except Feb. 14th) at 8:00 pm,
through March 7th.

Tickets:  <www.theatreunleashed.org>