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Red Tape’s ‘Skriker’ a confounding mess

Sadie Rogers (center) stars as title character Red Tape Theatre producti 'The Skriker.'

Sadie Rogers (center) stars as the title character in the Red Tape Theatre production of "The Skriker."

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When: Through Oct. 20

Where: Red Tape Theatre at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 621 W. Belmont

Tickets: $15-$25

Info: (847) 242-6000;

Updated: October 22, 2012 6:08AM

That the audience is required to walk in circles for close to two hours in a dark, stuffy space is hardly the biggest problem facing Red Tape Theatre’s confusing and tedious staging of Caryl Churchill’s “The Skriker.”

Never mind that at least one person nearly face-planted opening night on Monday after tripping on scenery during the murky production. No, the biggest issue here is director Eric Hoff’s inability to make the piece accessible either vocally or visually. Granted, Churchill’s non-traditional, metaphor-laden narratives and sing-song (seemingly) nonsense poetry often seem like they need to come with a Decoder Ring. But helmed by Hoff, “The Shriker’s” storyline quickly disintegrates from challenging, fantastical narrative to a mishmash of disjointed yet monotonous dance and intelligible blather.

As for the promenade staging, it’s uninspired to say the least. The audience doesn’t promenade through the action so much as it circles in monotonous loops. Round about our 10th or so circuit through the dim playing space, we started being less concerned about which form the shape-shifting title fairy would take next and more concerned with making it to the end without stumbling over a scenery flat and/or accidentally kicking one of the many actors constantly scuttling about at ankle-height.

A fanciful mix of magical realism, horror story and myth, “The Skriker” is a dense, potentially confounding piece that demands clarity in its performances if the audience is to have any hope of making sense of the alternately symbolic, allegorical and fantasy-fueled narrative. Churchill’s work is always challenging — her dialogue calls to mind James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in its dense, rapid-fire amalgam of free-flowing rhyme, subtext and references to everything from pop culture to ancient myth. Here challenging quickly becomes impenetrable.

The central figure is the Skriker (played by Sadie Rogers), an ancient fairy that speaks in an ultra-thick Scottish brogue. Initially, the creature is intriguing. Ultimately, it’s weary trying both to decipher that thick accent and draw meaning from the endlessly intricate barrage of words. What starts as novel form of lyricism and playfulness quickly degenerates into an exhausting onslaught of jibberish.

The plot centers on the Skriker’s need to feed off and its malevolent powers to create chaos, disasters and meteorological disasters in the world. Churchill seems to be commenting on issues of class, gender, sexuality and the destructive forces of modern mankind. But all this commentary gets obscured by Hoff’s overstuffed staging, which is rife with distracting, outbreaks of interpretive dance.

Finally, there’s the actors’ penchant for having intrusive stare downs with audience members. “The Skriker” is a difficult play as it is. Trying to get to its heart while a performer glaring directly at you from a vantage point so close you can feel their exhale is next to impossible.

Catey Sullivan is a local free-lance writer.

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