Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Dark Matters
West End Players Guild
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent reviews of The Whale and Xanadu

(foreground) Cory Burke and Suki Peters;
(background) Joseph Garner and Ben Ritchie

Photo by John Lamb
It seems like there are two ways you could look at Dark Matters, wrapping up the 111th season of the venerable West End Players Guild in St. Louis. Under the hard-driving direction of Karen Pierce, it could just be a haunting play about the arrival of extraterrestrials in a remote part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Or it could be something weirder: a play where we, the terrestrials, just want to distract from all our own worst behaviors with the idea of invaders from another world.

Either way, Dark Matters by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa first debuted in New York at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in 2006. And in its current revival, the way-out explanation (of visitors from other planets) turns out to be the more comforting of the two. But you never know which to believe after the first forty-five minutes of this two-hour play (with intermission). Because by then, a panicky kind of brainwashing has robbed us of our reason.

Act one focuses on Michael Cleary and his teenage son Jeremy, who are being questioned by a local sheriff in connection with the disappearance of Michael's wife Bridget. Her car has been found abandoned, with the doors open and the lights on, after a trip to a farmers market in the remote hill country. She happens to have authored books about UFOs, and there's an odd sense that she may have been hot on the trail of one.

Joseph Garner expertly plays Michael, a fascinating neurotic. The family (until recently) lived in the bustling District of Columbia, but a personal scandal tarnished their reputation, hastening a move to the country. The already seasoned young actor Cory Burke plays Jeremy, whose interests include comic books and possibly meth.

Around that forty-five minute mark, we begin to sense there are too many quirky explanations cropping up around Bridget's disappearance, and surrounding her past behaviors. We are told she "sleepwalks," and that she "always felt cold." And on and on, with father and son driving themselves into a panic. Sheriff Benjamin Egan (played by the ultra-professional Ben Ritchie) goes out looking for answers, leading him to a dark roadhouse bar frequented by truckers and day laborers.

We do finally meet Mrs. Cleary, played by the earnest and disarming Suki Peters. But by then, Michael has gone four days without sleep, and suddenly we can't stop thinking about the 1956 sci-fi classic The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In that spine-tingling movie, the aliens come and replace you in your slumber. Once Mrs. Cleary settles in again, her stories of space aliens are seductively beautiful. And she has an eye-popping explanation for what happens next.

The weird "bone-rattling" sound design is by Morgan Maul-Smith and, combined with the inescapably rising panic of Mr. Garner as Michael Cleary, we're landed in a state of permanent uncertainty. Should we run for our lives?

In the end, we aren't just hankering for a way off a rotting planet. We're yearning for a rapture from ourselves.

Dark Matters, runs through April 14, 2024, at West End Players Guild, Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 North Union Avenue, St. Louis MO. For tickets and more information, please visit

Jeremy Cleary: Cory Burke
Sheriff Benjamin Egan: Ben Ritchie
Michael Cleary: Joseph Garner
Bridget Cleary: Suki Peters

Production Staff:
Director and Set Designer: Karen Pierce
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Renee Sevier-Monsey
Lighting Designer: Jacob Winslow
Sound Designer: Morgan Maul-Smith
Props: Jessa Knust
Master Carpenter: Jacob Winslow
Light Board Operator: Anna Blair
Sound Board Operator: Mary Beth Winslow
Box Office Manger: Sara Howard
Cover Designer: Marjorie Williamson
Program Designer: Nathan Schroeder