Cuchipinoy Productions is participating in the Third Annual Spotlight On Halloween Festival, and the tedium and confusion of its offering, Now I Lie, is truly terrifying. Supposedly about three generations of Chinese-American women and the lengths they go to in order to escape their past and the curse that haunts them, Lesli-Jo Morizono’s play concentrates more on a fabled horrific creature that never . . . really . . . does . . . anything to them. The women continually cower in fear and whimper in alarm at the imminent arrival of Dogwitch. Get ready for this: Dogwitch is the spirit of a dog that is coming to devour them all and never shows up - or has ever done them any tangible harm in the past. Scary, huh?
From the very beginning, both the acting and the story are so choppy it’s nearly impossible to follow along. It’s not until nearly halfway through that the legend of Dogwitch starts to unravel, and by that point, we just don’t care anymore. The three characters are so under-developed that it’s difficult to even figure out who they are and what their relationship is to each other until, again, it’s too late. When it finally becomes clear who begat who, the story has already been tossed aside, taking a backseat to the bizarre maternal lineage and the faux-frightening “curse” that follows them.
Sonia Tatninov as daughter Jane is perhaps the easiest actor to watch onstage, for at least her portrayal appears somewhat natural, if not a little clichéd in its delivery. The fact that she has been on the run with a woman who “found her in the sink of a gas station bathroom” for her entire life, but now has that woman tied to a chair and is entertaining the thought of suicide, is presented with the hope that no one else finds this scenario a little weird. Ms. Tatninov appears even more comfortable as the evil great-grandmother who induces the wrath of Dogwitch, reveling in icy cruelty rather than the flitty determination of her teenage character.
As the woman whose “love kills,” Seiko Higuma’s grandmother Mae is unintelligible, shaky, and garbled. The line between when she is living and dead is as blurred as her characterization, not to mention the fact that she comes off as clearly the youngest person onstage. Mae’s ever-present hovering onstage is both distracting and bewildering, for as was mentioned before, the other actors seem just as unsure of her existence as we are.
Rounding out the trio is Karen Tan as Lola/Roberta/Loretta/Rhonda/whatever-the-heck-her-name is. The irresponsible daughter of Mae and mother of Jane is both transparent and unfocused, and Ms. Tan’s acting only achieves two levels: slightly vague and mostly muddled. She constantly stutters her lines, which does nothing to aide the continuity of the show and certainly does not make her character either relatable or interesting. When Ms. Tan as Lola can barely remember her lines, it’s a wonder she can remember enough of her cross-country flight and relations with her fanatical mother to relate the tale of Dogwitch to her daughter.
And speaking of Dogwitch, let’s discuss that concept some more. It’s been said that the scariest demon is often the one that is never seen, but by the time the lights went up I was sincerely hoping that Dogwitch would still put in an appearance, anything to heighten the lack of tension and horror of the past ninety minutes. Even someone in a dog costume handing out pamphlets in the lobby would have been preferable to the void left by the show’s ending. The absence of, well, anything got me seriously wondering what the point of the show had been, since the conclusion’s cookie-cutter attempt at family normalcy could have easily been achieved by any interchangeable catalyst, not necessarily the spirit of an angry dog.
Now I Lie struck me as a show without a focus; topics were touched on but never truly explored, fables passed down but never really examined, and characters sketched but never genuinely developed. I didn’t feel like I’d seen a show—and certainly not one that qualifies as “horror”, at least not in the traditional sense of the word—so much as a twisted, soap opera stream of consciousness that culminated in a large pile of nothing. These women are scared of a story that has no basis and trapped by a curse that carries no substantial threat. I just felt trapped and scared.