Review: `Sleepy’

Opened Sept. 7, 2007

Impact scares up some horror in Sleepy
three stars Dark, bumpy night

Things go bump in the night during Impact Theatre’s Sleepy, and those bumping things are often dead bodies and audience expectations.

A collection of five short interconnected plays, Steven Yockey’s Sleepy keeps threatening to be one thing and then abruptly becomes something else.

The one thing it’s safe to say about the show is that it dwells somewhere close to “The Twilight Zone.” Director Dawn Monique Williams and her six actors — Gabriel A. Ross, Pamela Davis, Seth Thygesen, Marissa Keltie, John Terrell and Jessica Kiely — keep us on the verge of expecting the unexpected, which is a perfectly fine place to be for the show’s brisk 60 minutes.

The opening scene about a nightmare-plagued man and his unhappy, sleep-deprived wife reveals elements we’ll see in each of the short plays. One of these is physical: there’s a fancy new hotel in the neighborhood that we’ll end up seeing from different vantage points. One involves time: everything here happens in the wee hours of the night. And the other is more emotional: people want desperately to be listened to, as if being heard will somehow rescue them from the great yawning abyss.

The domestic drama of the first scene is angry and ugly. Then, boom! We’re in a whole different kind of play — one Rob Zombie might enjoy.

There are moments in the first scene and the second, about a traumatized young woman making some sort of confession on the phone, that recall audition scenes for drama school.

There’s something overwrought and familiar about the writing and the acting that weakens the drama. But then a corner is turned, and the scenes come alive. In the second scene, that corner involves projected video of jellyfish and a childhood recollection of murder that is truly horrifying.

Before the evening is out, we’ll be taken for a ride in one of the hotel’s creepy elevators and taken to the roof of the hotel, where a young woman’s crush on her best friend threatens to go in a violent direction.

The best piece of the lot is also the most overt ensemble piece. Each character mistakes another for someone else. At first, the scene is comical, but then, when a man is about to jump from a ledge high up on the hotel, the sense of identity confusion takes us to a most enjoyable mess-with-your-head place.

Lighting designer Stephanie Buchner keeps her lamps suitably low for these unsettling tales, and set designer Andrew Susskind conveys a sense of the claustrophobic night (granted, an easy thing to do in a basement theater) with a too-small hotel room and a refrigerator that turns out to be the most illuminating thing on stage.

By play’s end, everyone is seeing ghosts or feeling something sinister lurking unseen in the corners. And with that uneasy feeling, Impact and Sleepy send us happily into the real world of darkness outside the theater walls.

For information about Sleepy, visit www.impacttheatre.com.

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