Theater

Durant: “Dangerous House” is something “truly special”

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Durant: “Dangerous House” is something “truly special”

I think there might be magic in the Nikos Stage at Williamstown Theatre Festival; I’ve never seen a production in this particular space that hasn’t utterly thrilled me. Jen Silverman’s Dangerous House is, happily, no exception.

In Cape Town, South Africa, we meet Pretty Mbane (Samira Wiley), who almost seems to exist in a void; she’s not sure where she is or how she got there, and talks directly to the audience, telling us short broken vignettes about her life. Noxolo (Alfie Fuller) is in London, having traveled there from Cape Town to play soccer; she can’t reach Pretty, her ex-girlfriend, and is worried. She returns to South Africa against her friend Marcel’s (Phillip James Brannon) advice and finds her brother Sicelo (Atandwa Kani), giving a tour to Gregory (Michael Braun), a journalist looking for “the New South Africa”; over Sicelo’s protestations, she enlists Gregory to help her find Pretty, who was involved in something political and may need help – although that may prove dangerous.

Dane Laffrey has created a creative masterpiece of a puzzle box set for this production. A huge black box greets you as you enter the space, a table and chairs on one side and a bar on the other; the top of the box lights up and emits low-grade fog throughout the production, and halfway through, part of it opens to reveal a whole new staging area. It’s ingenious and unlike anything I’ve seen. Lap Chi Chu’s lighting design and Palmer Heffernan’s sound design work hand-in-hand – the lighting is stark and bare and the sound keeps you just a touch off-balance. It’s unsettling in the best way.

Silverman’s script is so strong, striking and well-written – I hope to see more of her work soon – and Saheem Ali’s direction almost draws blood with its precision. The cast is chosen brilliantly – there’s not a single weak link here – and work so well together.

Wiley, whose work on both Orange is the New Black and The Handmaid’s Tale is not to be missed, is the heart of the tale as Pretty; her monologues are mysterious, humorous and portentous, and as we learn more about her, she takes on such import. She has a great character to work from on the page, but she brings such warmth and life to Pretty – it’s a joy to watch her. Fuller has the heavy lifting here, and she pulls it off beautifully – she’s a woman running on empty for the entire production, and we can feel her need, her exhaustion, and ultimately, her strength. Brannon has such a touching moment with Fuller during a Skype call it brought me to tears; Braun takes what could be a throwaway character and imbues it with such life, and Kani has a character arc that is almost unbelievable and makes it look so easy. What a powerhouse group.

Compelling, timely works such as these are so needed, and this production has everything you want in great theater and more – you’ll leave knowing you’ve experienced something truly special.

“Dangerous House”; Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA; through August 19; $60; Run time: 80 minutes; 413-458-3253; http://wtfestival.org/

 

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