You enter Red Tape’s space through the stage, and cross a bridge over a black void to your seat, perched four feet above floor level. When you settle in, you realize you’re looking at a three-tiered set (courtesy of set designer William Anderson) — an apartment building with see-through walls. Actors are already occupying the space, and you’re the inadvertent voyeur, hidden in the shadows, perched on a ledge. We may as well have binoculars. The intrigue is set before house lights dim. Perfect.
Jennifer Barclay’s Obscura: a voyeuristic love story is an 80 minute, intermissionless character study. It’s like looking into a petri dish of eccentric, lonely people and seeing how their patterns of life consume each other over time.
On the top floor, you have Salvia, a nervous and beautiful woman in red (Meghan Reardon) who feverishly concocts questionable potions to cure her neighbors’ mysterious ailments. Below her is the writer suffering from perpetual writer’s block (Nick Combs) who gets woven into Salvia’s spell. Holed up in the garden apartment is Rodney (Robert L. Oakes), a weasel of a man whose pastime of spying on his upstairs neighbors is catching up to him. An offstage couple fights and makes love loudly and frequently. And overseeing everything is the muttering European landlady (Lona Livingston), who knows more than she lets on, and seems to find the most inopportune time to incessantly hammer a nonexistent nail.
Privacy is extinct. Everybody’s up in everyone’s business. Something’s gotta give.
Seeing these lives unravel and intertwine behind closed doors and in stairwells is fascinating by itself, but it’s the way Barclay and director Julieanne Ehre orchestrate the whole thing that elevates it to something extraordinary. The repetitious actions by these tenants create a cacophony of sound and rhythm, which effectively builds tension and atmosphere. The ending may be a little too neat for my tastes, but, overall, this is a sophisticated and fascinating effort by Red Tape.
“Obscura: a voyeuristic love story” plays through Oct. 23 at Red Tape theatre. More info here >