New Paradise Laboratories’ Fringe show The Adults feels like the result of David Lynch, in one of his less narratively inclined moods, staging a drunken weekend for nasty Hollywood types. The action is set in an isolated lakeside cabin where the characters lust after one another and drink too much, while a creeping sense of existential dread pervades the scene. The production contains little dialogue but much in the way of droning bursts of sonic discomfiture. Do not be fooled by the abundant tequila; this party is not going to be a good-natured romp.
The plot, such as it is, centers on a cabin where the half-crazed playwright Alex (Matteo Scammell) scribbles in seclusion. His companion is the mysterious lake resident Wiszie (Matt Saunders), who seems to be imbued with malignant and undefined power. Their bizarre existence is interrupted by the arrival of his mother, Eva (Kate Czajkowski), a noted actress. Accompanying her are three companions, all employed in the film industry, and a truly ungodly amount of liquor. Their antics become even more oppressive when an unexpected player arrives in the form of Mia (Emilie Krause), who describes herself as Alex’s girlfriend. She immediately becomes sucked into a tangled web of manic lechery which seems to taint everyone in the house.
The set is gorgeous. It is decorated with a towering taxidermied grizzly bear and a screen that displays shifting views of the lakeside in accordance with the dictates of the action. It even contains a shower built into the wall, the better to clean off sand or other, more incriminating, substances. The composer, Bhob Rainey, masterfully evokes a sense of looming disaster with cinematic flourishes akin to the unnerving effects stimulated by the soundtracks of masterpieces of unease like Eraserhead and Under the Skin.
Everyone in the cast embodies their roles gracefully, from the human incarnation of ageless evil (Saunders), the innocent diametrically opposed to him (Krause), and the scrum of degenerate Hollywood players who subsume the initially resistant Alex. (Julia Frey’s Karen seems to have just slunk in from Play It as It Lays or some other suitably doom-laden work by Joan Didion.)
Fischl and Chekhov
The director, Whit MacLaughlin, claims The Adults is inspired by the grotesque beachside paintings of Eric Fischl as well as Anton Chekhov’s Seagull (a comi-tragedy in which a bunch of actors, playwrights, and other artists gather at a lakeside house and behave cruelly to one another). “The Adults contains very little text, but what text there is was written by the Cast, the Director, and Anton Chekhov,” the program reads, in reference to an avant-garde play within The Seagull (which is transferred in its entirety to the conclusion of The Adults).
It is sometimes forgotten that Chekhov’s play is meant to be funny despite themes of suicide and adultery. The humor of The Adults could easily get lost in the gravely serious undertones. But the play has laughs, and remarkably physical ones, too, for those who like their drunken pratfalls freighted with metaphysical anxiety.
This is not a production for those who exclusively prefer theater with a linear narrative, witty dialogue, and a happy ending. But this latest Fringe entry from New Paradise Laboratories is a masterwork of unease.