Written by Halley Feiffer
Directed by Kip Fagan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Co-dependent sisters Ada (Katya Campbell) and Sam (Keira Keeley) and their alter-ego sidekick Dorrie (Jen Ponton) suffer from a somewhat classic case of disambiguation and their individual and corporate arrested development occupy the stage in Helley Feiffer’s complex and often disturbing “How to Make Friends and then Kill Them” currently running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
Ms. Feiffer’s new play not only begs for but demands psychological criticism to successfully peel off the delicious layers of meaning in her text. Superego, ego, and id collide, morph, collapse, and re-emerge as the three characters rehearse the stages of development for the often unsuspecting audience. Ada’s, Sam’s and Dorrie’s childhoods, teenage years, and adulthoods never quite achieve separate developmental identities; rather, they are each “stuck” somewhere in development and cry out for redemption and release from their psychological angst. Sam admits to wanting to die “so bad.” Unable to escape her addictions, Ada simply just “does not care” any more. And Dorrie does whatever is necessary to be loved including offering up her life.
Katya Campbell, Keira Keeley, and Jen Ponton skillfully navigate their way through the complexities of their characters’ psyches with an uncanny understanding of Ada, Sam, and Dorrie respectively. The portrayals they give are never simplistic or overwrought. They bring the vignettes from their characters’ lives to a realistic albeit disquieting level often matching the girls’ definitions of “weird” and “creepy.” They rehearse childhood games in their adulthood hoping to recapture a more innocent time. They are so without boundaries they easily exchange identities and desires. They struggle to understand what friendship is and always manage to just miss its mark.
Andromache Chalfant’s multi-level set is a striking mindscape which reflects the inner workings of the human mind: there are places where memories reside; there are unfinished mental landscapes (insulated wall studs with no sheetrock); and there is the cellar, the mysterious and frightening aspects of the mind’s domain. Most of the action takes place in the family kitchen, the room normally occupied by warmth and nurturing but in this case the scene of horrific memories of an alcoholic mother and the characters’ recurring attempts to cheat the dissolution of their ego strength perhaps one more time.
Director Kip Fagan manages to make all of this work with a distinguished level of grace and care. There are no wasted moments in this fine production. And under Mr. Fagan’s direction the cast makes only right choices about their characters and their motivations. The challenge for the audience is to determine whether Ada, Sam, and Dorrie are separate individuals or a surreal representation of the complexities of the human mind as it “walks the boards” of separation and individuation. In either case, the result is gripping theatre which insists that the audience grapples with the mysteries of growing up, codependence, and all too often, the “fear and trembling unto death.”