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A CurtainUp Review
If you go, it's best to start at square one. But a few things can be said here about the difficult play and the impressive production.
It's learned early on that a young woman is trying to untangle the circumstances of her sister's death. Her sister, the play's central figure, is a whiz with languages and a pawn in the spy game.
This espionage tale is complicated by a shuffled time sequence, full cast doubling, and a good measure of deliberate ambiguity. Viewers need to sort out where a given scene fits into the picture and establish who is who, and who is doing what for whom and to whom. And who are these characters really? A great starting point.But while it's perfectly legitimate to expect an audience to deal with truth, lies and uncertainty in a spy story, there is a need to distinguish between the genuinely mysterious and the merely confusing.
Cipher is an interesting title choice. A cipher, like this play, converts message into code. But the word's other meaning also applies here: Persons with no weight are ciphers. The eight characters, more gameboard markers than persons, are flat surface dwellers and unknowable by design. This becomes problematic in a play that means to examine versions of identity. Artistic Director Tom Reing and the actors do everything they can with Ciphers. It's the play itself that employs mere outlines of stances and mixes good mystery with coy obfuscation.
The four actors, all very able, could handle depth that's not included in the strategy of this play, and do less racing across the top. While there's murky double dealing and deceptive dialogue, the play's overall sketched quality may also account for some slippage in the logic department (that can't be outlined here) along with the clunkiness of a couple of heat-less sex scenes.
The real star of this Inis Nua show is its ingenious production values. Janelle Kaufmann's varied and sophisticated video design provides location, information, and decoration in total congruence with Meghan Jones's stunningly realized and stylishly adaptable contemporary set. Together Shon Causer's smart lighting and Toby Pettit's intriguing sound design support the story and enhance suspense. This level of production work would be remarkable at a large house with a big budget and thousands of subscribers. For a small theatre company it's pretty astonishing.
Inis Nua's mission is "to produce contemporary, provocative plays from Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales which reflect those cultures' new identities in today's world" and from American writers who deal with those cultures in their American experiences. While this English play by Dawn King may have its issues, there's opportunity for conjecture, and it could be intriguing for you to take a whack at ferreting out its deceptions, decoding it, diagnosing it, and deciding for yourself. In any case you'll admire Inis Nua's admirable staging of a sticky play.