Is war inevitable? That’s the central question raised by Jen Silverman’s raw, hard-hitting play, Phoebe in Winter. Granted, this is one of those immense philosophical questions that can make for a dull, didactic play.
Phoebe in Winter is not an easy play to stage in any respect. The characters repeatedly change roles and be warned, the production includes nudity. There are some didactic passages; and war rages outside, and inside, the Creedy family home.
But at Single Carrot, the action, characters and even heavy thematic underpinnings grab you from the start. That start comes as soon as you enter the theater through the front door of the Creedys’ house! No mistaking the intention of director de Mahy and set designer Jason Randolph. We’re all in this together.
Phoebe in Winter begins with a father waiting for his three sons to return from war. Which war? The script never says, and the director includes references to any number of 20th and 21st conflicts involving American soldiers. There are radio broadcasts, uniforms and weapons from World War I through the Iraq War.
The first member of the Creedy family to come home is the middle son, Anther, played by Paul Diem as meek to the point of being disengaged. Shortly after that, the oldest son, Jeremiah, comes home. Matthew Shea portrays him as Anther’s polar opposite – edgy, with a vicious streak.
The third person who comes to the door, however, isn’t the longed for youngest son, Liam, it’s a menacing stranger, a women brandishing a machine gun.
Lauren Erica Jackson’s Phoebe is fierce, a woman who knows who she is and why she’s here, even if everyone else claims not to. After delivering some Old Testament-sounding judgments, Phoebe announces that she’s moving in and they will be the brothers she lost to war.
Soon this uneasy domestic arrangement starts shifting. Phoebe insists that the father, affably played by Richard Goldberg, take the role of the absent son, though the father’s role changes again later. And Phoebe casts the family’s maid, Boggett, in the role of their dog. Lauren A. Saunders, as the haughty maid, is not happy about this.
The words “civilized” and “peace” recur frequently in Phoebe in Winter, but the action becomes increasingly violent. Eventually, the house turns into a battleground. The striking effects are by lighting designer Tabetha White and sound designer Stephen Krigel, as well as set designer Randolph. Credit also goes to fight choreographer Tegan Williams.
Not only have the brothers brought the war home, it doesn’t matter who plays which role. They can’t escape or change war. It’s a bleak message, but there are unexpected bursts of comedy.
Combined with the broad performing style and array of time periods, at Single Carrot Theatre, Phoebe in Winter is a startling, stunningly realized apocalyptic parable.