The Velvet Sky
Also see Tracy's review of Trying
Like After Ashley, which opened the season at Washington’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, the company’s current production, The Velvet Sky, is a drama about family dysfunction centering on a boy in his early teens. But, while the earlier play operated in an atmosphere of exaggerated realism, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s vision of the interactions between parents and children is surrealistic and haunting; it stays with the viewer like a half-remembered dream.
Aguirre-Sacasa has clearly learned from other playwrights: the antic treatment of a grim subject suggests David Lindsay-Abaire’s Fuddy Meers, while the undercurrent of self-delusion in the midst of absurdity is akin to Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz. The central message may be obvious – no matter how parents may try to protect their children, they can never do enough – but that doesn’t make it any less affecting or engrossing.
Bethany Palmer (Jeanine Serralles) married her husband Warren (Will Gartshore) right after they graduated from high school, and they settled down in their small hometown and raised their son Andrew (Matthew Stadelmann), who is now one day away from his 13th birthday. But something is clearly wrong here. Beth has forced herself not to sleep ever since Andrew’s birth, believing that only her constant vigilance will keep her son safe from a threatening creature she calls the Sandman.
Finally, Warren decides enough is enough. He packs up Andrew (in his pajamas and a sweater hand-knitted by his mother) and they take off for New York City in the middle of the night, with Beth following as fast as she can.
Andrew, meanwhile, is sick of living in the cocoon of his mother’s protectiveness. He wants to experience the seamy side of life (“You’re 12! You don’t have a sexuality!” his disbelieving mother cries) and finds it in isolated corners of the Big Apple, such as a men’s room at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. He also keeps meeting a scary man with a shaved head (Rick Foucheux), who may or may not be the Sandman of his mother’s fears.
The experience of The Velvet Sky is less about the plot and more about the overall atmosphere. During 90 minutes with no intermission, the characters make some connections while missing others, and ultimately realize the truths that can only be told behind the veil of fantasy.
Director Rebecca Bayla Taichman keeps the tension high, working with an accomplished cast. Stadelmann is the standout, clearly older than his character but never coming across as “playing young.” Scott Bradley’s scenic design of broken walls and a vast crescent moon works admirably, along with the subtly unsettling lighting design of Colin K. Bills and the original music and sound design by Martin Desjardins and Vincent Olivieri.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company