Matthew Reddin

Alchemist Theatre’s Closet Land

By - Jun 20th, 2010 01:55 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email

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.

Aaron Kopec and Jenna Wetzel.

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.

Three players act this two-person show, and one of them is us. Three harsh lights occasionally blaze into our eyes. Cacophonies ranging from the prisoner’s recorded voice to pro-government brainwashing and periods of complete darkness and silence oppress us intermittently. These assaults connect us to the actors and make us a real presence in the action.

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.

Categories: Theater

0 thoughts on “Review: Alchemist Theatre’s Closet Land”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The director’s name is misspelled above. It is Beth Lewinski

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us