Squeamish: A Review
Sharon is a basket case. She’s a New York City, Upper West Side psychoanalyst in need of her own New York City, Upper West Side psychiatrist. She’s off her meds. Has been for a while. She’s a recovering alcoholic. Desperately in need of a drink. Sharon’s barely keeping it together but she’s still capable of understanding her needs. She needs to see her shrink. Badly. Even though she hasn’t kept up with her visits she shows up at Dr. Schneider’s apartment in the dead of night. Once inside she takes a seat.
It’s there that we first find her. It’s there that she will remain. For the next ninety intermission-less moments we will be transfixed by her story. She will gloriously regale us, and the good doctor, with her recent adventures in the flat landscape of Lubbock, Texas. She will tell us about her nephew’s sudden death and the funeral that brought her to that hot and humid place. She’ll go on about her encounters with the locals. Her growing paranoia. Her expanding psychosis. Her continuing nightmares. Most importantly she will tell us of her hemophobia. Her fear of blood. The results of her relationship with the warm red fluid that keeps us all alive will drive the tale and keep you fixed and focused on Sharon’s every word.
Sharon has been falling asleep on her own patients as of late. Nightmares of her mother’s past suicide have been keeping her awake. She’s now at the same age when her mother did herself in. She’s also having nightmares about her cousin Eddie’s recent suicide. If it was indeed a suicide. Her trip is a journey to find the truth. Once in Texas the mystery thickens as Sharon meets Cara who has a thing for razor sharp knives and the taste of blood. Despite being squeamish about life’s vital juice for as long as she can remember, except for that one time she tasted her own and found it oddly satisfying and sexually gratifying, Sharon finds herself going along on Cara’s sanguinarian adventures. All this death and blood, and lack of booze and pills, and the smell of peppermint that permeates her cheap motel room leaves Sharon’s mind in a state of frenzied confusion. All of this leads to some very dark morbid choices on her part and therein lies the bloody rub.
A good horror story is one that draws you in closer and closer until the trap that’s been set begins to close in around you. The trappings of Squeamish are sublime. Every aspect of the All For One Theater production at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row are exquisite in their execution.
It is pitch black in the house when the show begins. In fact, before Squeamish even starts the usual warnings of cell phone activity is heightened by the additional caution that any light, even the light from your watch, will appear three-fold brighter should it suddenly reveals itself. Darkness is this productions friend. Everything in this world is black. The walls, the simple furnishings, the frame representing a large window overlooking the city, even Sharon is dressed entirely in black. Lighting designer Sarah Johnston, and her associate designer Sophie Talmadge Silleck, manage to use all this negative dark space to heighten the low-level lighting that they concentrate tightly on Sharon, her cup, table, and chair. There’s subtlety in design is at work here in an extremely elegant fashion.
A one-person show is primarily a dance between actor and author. A symbiosis of two storytellers at work. Here, once again, the production is in excellent hands. Playwright Aaron Mark has crafted a frightening journey that travels along a very tight wire. He balances humor and pathos with finesse. His characters are woven well and feel very real. Squeamish is his third psychological thriller and it is indeed charmed. Mark also takes the helm here as director and the benefits of his deceptively light touch are palpable. The highest compliment that can be paid to a director is that a good director is one that is never caught directing. Mark lets the words speak for themselves and he cast the perfect actress to deliver them.
Alison Fraser as Sharon is a wonder to behold. Along with playing Sharon she will also inhabit six other characters, both male and female. There are no doubts that the technical skills of a two time Tony Award nominee are at work here in a masterful performance. Those skills are wrapped up in an artistic tour deforce that makes you fall for the sanguine, neurotic, twisted little soul she brings to life. There’s a smoky, syrupy, sultry texture to Fraser’s voice that is intoxicating. Her delivery of Sharon’s staccato thoughts is flawless and instrumental to that all-important draw that sucks you into her story. Squeamish does indeed have a twist but Alison Fraser herself is the seductive trap.
Sharon spends the waning night in Dr. Schneider’s apartment. Time flies here and there is a profound sense of disappointment as the sun begins to rise on Sharon’s tale and the realization occurs that things are coming to an end. There’s a great deal to be said when you long to spend more time in the company of a charming yet deadly villain.
The Beckett Theatre - Theatre Row 410 West 42nd St New York, NY 10036 $52.25 www.theatrerow.org 212-239-6200 Oct 6 – Nov 11, 2017
From an original post on TheaterScene.