Alchemist Theatre’s Closet Land
We can describe the horror of torture in words. We can show it in images and video. But a live production, such as Alchemist Theater’s Closet Land, goes further. The play delves into the nature of violence and explores how the human spirit endures torment.
Beth Lewinski makes her directorial debut in Closet Land, which first appeared in 1991 as an independent film by Radha Bharadwaj. The play depicts the abduction, imprisonment and torture of a children’s book writer (Jenna Wetzel), known only by the identification AB234, accused of slipping subversive, anti-government thought into her latest book, also named Closet Land. Her interrogator (Alchemist co-founder Aaron Kopec) assures her there has been a mistake and she will soon be released. It’s a lie, the first of many.
Closet Land is a physical play. Its defining moments are those of action — an unexpected ear-boxing, a chilling, bizarre kiss during with the interrogator forces a bite of apple into the mouth of his captive.
The play’s language is visceral, too. For the interrogator, every sentence is a tool. He will say anything to break the writer and make her confess.
Kopec’s officer is consistent throughout; cool, rational, and sadistic in a way that makes it hard to take your eyes off him — especially when his façade begins to crack. Wetzel’s deft maneuvering through the emotional collapse of AB234 is stunning to watch. She moves closer and closer to the abyss, but won’t give in. Instead, she retreats to her own closet land, an imaginary world she created in her mind as a child to cope with a secret trauma. She slowly gains the resolve necessary to withstand her captor and even challenge him. In doing so, challenges the audience, too.
That sense of presence is never any stronger than at the end of the play, when Wetzel gives one last emotional monologue. She tells us that we are the problem, that when people ignore the everyday evils and torments of the world for too long it is impossible to react when evil comes for them.
Closet Land asks hard questions, and the answers are harder still. But we can’t hide in our closets forever. At some point, we must step into the light, see the world for what it is, and decide what we can do about it.
Closet Land runs through July 3 at the Alchemist Theatre, in Bay View at 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Tickets are $15; click here to buy and to see a complete performance schedule.