"What lessons are there for me to learn in a desolate house in a desolate wood?" cries poor Christabel, victim first of Samuel Coleridge's unfinished verse poem, Christabel, and now of Monika Bustamante's less-than-fulfilling indie adaptation, Thirst. It's actually not the thirst that's the problem--the show is overflowing with creative moments. It's the lack of hunger behind them, the lack--as Christabel bemoans--of anything to learn.
This is immediately apparent from Susan Zeeman Rogers's set--a sort of Gothic Western, by way of cardboard cutouts and evil burlap--and Chloe Chapin's costuming, which makes Christabel look like Alice (of Wonderland), and Enid--the white-haired, doe-eyed, straight-backed stranger she befriends in the dark, dark woods--seem like a vampire, to say nothing of Christabel's father, Leo, a rootin'-tootin' cowboy (moonshine and all). As the play unfolds, props pop out of cabinets installed in the trees--a cute device that only further confuses what was a very much symbolic poem--and the actors ham their way through lines to the point that they only sound interesting: "Freedom relies on your will to be free," is one wasted moment, so is Christabel's recollection that she once recieved "kisses made to swallow me." Even the pancakes are exaggerated, big rubbery stacks--ironically, the only scenery that isn't chewed.
Some of the individual moments are intriguing--the seduction of Elizabeth Gross's Christabel by Lori Funk's Enid takes place in such close proximity, and on such a small bed, that the audience is titillated. Likewise, once Matthew Cowles (Leo) gets wound up, he's got the perfect energy for the ghost story he delivers at the play's end--it's just a shame that this moment is miles apart from the rest of the story, a story that is at times about trust, at other times about despair, and sometimes just not really about anything at all. In this, Thirst is like so many modern beverages: visually appealing but far from actually nutritious.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009