Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Terror Fantastic
Twenty Percent Theatre Company
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Annie, Cloth, Hatchet Lady, Chess, and Blithe Spirit


Addison Sharpe and Khadija Siddiqui
Photo by Nadia Honary
The central character of Nicole Jost's play The Terror Fantastic, receiving a world premiere staging by Twenty Percent Theatre Company, calls herself Iz. She was born Isadora but Iz better suits her androgynous appearance and her identity as a gay woman. It also describe the state of her existence: she "Iz", not "Is." She exists not as an I-ego comforted by a tail of soft curves, but rather as one pursued by menacing jagged edges: the sharp claws of anxiety. I have seen characters suffering from anxiety depicted on stage and screen, but never with the striking impact that Jost creates in this play.

Iz is a writer, a few years out of college, whose anxiety appears to her—and to us—as a monster, a lithe creature clad in black tights and leotard, with wildly moussed hair and darkness around its eyes. The monster caresses and encircles her with extreme sensuality, but in a manner that is threatening rather than arousing. Iz struggles to fight off the monster's entreaties, telling it she will not be drawn into the void. She is determined to show up for her first day at a new temp job, but no sooner does she get to work than the monster catches up with her, prompting a panic attack. Iz's work supervisor, Hortense, is very understanding and tries to talk Iz through the attack with breathing exercises, but it is no use, and Iz is once again defeated by the monster.

Soon after, Floyd arrives at Iz's apartment. Floyd, an old friend from college, is moving in with Iz to split the rent. Floyd is good natured, but lacks deep insight into Iz's mental health, as well as her gender identity. He cajoles her into meeting him at a bar for a drink, where they are joined by another friend of Floyd, Sasha. Sasha projects both feminine and masculine qualities, playful but also aggressive. She has heard about Iz, the aspiring writer, and swipes Iz's writing notebook, paging through to an erotic story Iz has been working on. Sasha proceeds to read it aloud, against Floyd's mild protestations and Iz's frantic appeals to stop. Iz's monster returns in full force, as the bartender hurls anti-gay hate speech at her.

The Terror Fantastic continues with Iz in retreat. Battered by imagined monsters and real demons (like the bartender), she drifts in an out of a dream state in which her erotic story is revealed as a fairy tale. In her fantasy, Iz is a healthy, self-assured version of herself. Floyd appears as her brother, a strikingly effeminate prince, and Sasha as their mother, an evil queen. Hortense is the exotically beautiful Princess Julianna, come from a faraway kingdom to be wed to the prince, but susceptible to Iz's seductive words and deeds. In her dream state, Iz is an upstart, talking back to her mother and tossing witty insults at her brother, such as when he says to her "I know you think me a perfect fool," and she responds "Not at all; you are a mediocre fool at best." She is in charge and she gets to decide what happens next. Or does she? Things become more complicated and less clear, even in her fantasy. Meanwhile, in her real world, she continues to be tortured by the monster, who is sometimes joined by others, making for overwhelming odds against Iz's psyche.

Jost has done a superb job of dramatizing Iz's vividly wrenching conflict, which she describes as being terrified of her own brain, as well as the fantasy in which Iz calls the shots, and has the fortitude to stand up against the dangers that threaten her. The entwined reality/fantasy plot lines might have been reduced to a gimmick, but not in Jost's steady authorial hands. She is able to meld the two tangents together to arrive at a satisfying conclusion. Director Shalee Coleman skillfully moves the cast in and out of their different personas, making the line between reality and fantasy just blurry enough to challenge our perceptions.

Addison Sharpe is quite remarkable as Iz. Sharpe strikes a fancifully cocky pose in Iz's fantasy existence, but in her real life, believably conveys the terror of her anxiety attacks, her fear of the monsters in her mind, and her struggle to be her own authentic self—how she lives, how she dresses, how she loves in a world that is often hostile to that identity. Marcel Michelle is stunning in the dual role of Sasha and the Queen. Both characters have an imperious nature, but as Sasha, Michelle uses that strength to try to bring truth (even when the truth inflicts pain on others), while as the Queen she attempts to use her power to suppress the truth and force those around her to conform to her wishes.

Aaron Konigsmark deftly plays two very different characters. He is the well-meaning but obtuse Floyd, a quintessential "bro" who fancies himself a sensitive guy, even when he is being an oaf. He is also the whimpering Prince Marius, unable to stand up for anything—and I must wonder if Jost named him Marius so that Iz could have the pleasure of tauntingly calling him "Mary." Khadija Siddiqui is a beautiful object of desire as Princess Julianna, her demure nature in conflict with her reaction to Iz's attempts at seduction. Hillary Olson creates a genuinely scary monster, moving with reptilian grace. Her attacks against Iz's psyche make the terror of an anxiety attack into a visible presence.

The play unfolds in a setting designed by Erica Zaffarano backed up by stacked boxes, which on occasions hold surprises within. A bed, a bar with stools, and a chair with side table are on stage, all draped over in white, removing any possibility of recognizing these places, as if all reality is born in Iz's mind, and not in the environment around her. Libby Porter's costumes convey the real-life identities for Iz, Floyd, Sasha and Hortense, with transformations into whimsical fairy-tale types for all but Iz, who is always herself. Daniel Mauleon has created projections that morph from abstract line images into full representations of fairy-tale surroundings for Iz's dreams. Kassha Lisinski's sound design adds some additional terror to the already distraught proceedings.

Nicole Jost has given herself a tough assignment, dramatizing the inner terror of out-of-control anxiety, the feeling of being at war with one's own brain. She has succeeded in that aim, creating a play that is engrossing from its first moment to its very last line, giving the audience much to look at, listen to, and think about. Twenty Percent Theatre Company has done a splendid job of mounting this new work, and deserves plaudits for bringing challenging work like The Terror Fantastic to the stage.

The Terror Fantastic, a production of Twenty Percent Theatre Company, continues through December 16, 2017, at the Crane Theater, 2303 Kennedy Street N.E., Minneapolis, MN. All tickets are on a "pay what you can" sliding scale $5.00 - $25.00. For more information and tickets call 612-227-1188 or go to tctwentypercent.org.

Writer: Nicole Jost; Director: Shalee Coleman; Set Design: Erica Zaffarano; Costume Design: Libby Porter; Lighting Design: Courtney Schmitz; Sound Design: Kassha Lisinski; Projection Design: Daniel Mauleon; Fight Choreography: Jessica Smith; Stage Manager: Jaya Robillard; Assistant Stage Manager: Scout Fleckenstein; Assistant Director: Julia Alvarez; Prop Design and Producer: Claire Avitabile.

Cast: Torre Edahl (Second Monster Chorus), Antonio Jordan (Second Monster Chorus), Aaron Konigsmark (Floyd/Prince Marius), Marcel Michelle (Sasha/Queen), Hillary Olson (First Monster), Addison Sharpe (Iz), Khadija Siddiqui (Hortense/Princess Juliana), Nick Wolf (Bartender/Hunter).


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