An intense, brooding character study entitled “Fen” opens the 2016-17 theater season at Brooklyn College. The uninterrupted 95-minute drama was written in the 1980s by Caryl Churchill. It reveals the lives of tormented souls who are battered by the harsh realities unfolding on a British fen (marshy lowland).
Several actors play multiple parts. Some are brash elementary school children. Another celebrates her 90th birthday. Still others are young laborers. They barely survive under the oppressive yoke of a ruthless multinational corporation.
Director Mary Beth Easley provides a surreal setting (Heather Konish, set design) dominated by a huge flat box of earth or peat. Wooden walkways frame this large “sandbox.” Stools, chairs, garden tools and other miscellany actually hang from the rafters. A cellist (Alyssa Jackson) seated upstage behind a heavy “scrim” accompanies the performance. Before long, her music becomes the underlying pulse of the action. Well done!
The frequent character changes with minimal costume modifications clearly challenge the audience. We strain to unravel the relationships between the various actors. As if to assist us, many familiar faces onstage deliver strong interpretations. Tanyamaria and Sara Brown are excellent examples. They navigate their roles with wit and strength.
The crushing realities on the fen prove devastating for Val (Renee Floresca) and Frank (Adolfo “Fito” Alvarado). More impoverished men and women (Patrick O’Konis, Kristin Fulton and Ashley Renee Thaxton) are armed with well-studied British accents (Charlotte Fleck, dialogue coach).
Individually and as a group, the cast constantly confronts conflicting emotions, fighting madness and self-destruction. It is predictable, then, that Val goads her lover Frank to commit the ultimate act of frustration.
Is there a moral or message in this heavy-hearted drama? Well, the story begins with a cynical businessman (Ronald Kuang) confiding in the audience. He unabashedly explains his avaricious strategy. The downtrodden fen folk are trapped emotionally and physically in this web. It begs the question– Don’t we all reside in an urban “fen?” Is our own existence just as doomed?
Kudos to the entire creative team (Sabrina Bianca Guillaume, Byungchul Lee, Mark Bruckner, Robert Tuftee and stage manager Sophia Rose Leewah). For information on this and future productions, surf to depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/theater/productions_fall_2016.html or call the box office at 718-951-4500. As always, save me a seat on the aisle.