Jennifer Lane’s Psychomachia is as intriguing and intense as its title is enigmatic. The tension and heart-wrenching emotion that run throughout the course of the play make for a gripping, affecting experience.
Psychomachia centers on the connection between twins Johnny (Kyle Groff) and Lydia (Ashlie Atkinson), following Johnny’s death by suicide.
Desperate to find out why her beloved twin would take his own life, Lydia buries herself in his journals, becoming so obsessed she does not notice that he is seducing her from the “other side” to join him in death as they were in life.
Lydia’s story is enmeshed with that of her dysfunctional, grieving family (Jennifer Laine Williams, Cynthia Mace and Frank Deal), and also explores her relationship with her troubled boyfriend (John Calvin Kelly).
The play relies on flashbacks for back story, which easily could have been annoying and cliché. Instead, through Trystan Trazon’s well-managed sound design, the segues between past and present are easy to swallow.
Also surprising for a small space such as Shetler Studios were Groff’s artistic projections of the inscriptions in Johnny’s journal. They swim in space on the walls, making the audience’s heads dizzy with the same uncertainty Lydia feels as she reads them.
Early on, Lydia describes her family’s antics, setting the tone for the rest of the play: “This is fucked up. The dysfunction is what makes it so believable.
Atkinson (who has shown New York that she has fine acting chops in Fat Pig and The Ritz) plays Lydia realistically and flawlessly.
The role is a difficult one, bounding from levels of sarcasm, distress, humor, angst and sensitivity, and Atkinson makes the running of this marathon look easy.
The skill with which she explores the complexities of Lydia is fine-tuned and authentic. Lane would be smart to take Atkinson along for the ride, should the play get picked up for another run.
Mase and Deal’s turns as Lydia’s parents are exceptional as well.
Due to Robin A. Paterson’s masterful direction, the couple aptly explores divorce and mourning with a subtlety that is usually ignored in such scripted scenarios.
Instead of yelling at Margaret (Mase) when she reveals she is leaving him, Deal’s Edward bites quietly, “You’re awful.” Look for a few more poignant confrontations between the talented actors.
Paterson’s direction brings the best out of every performer in Psychomachia. He makes excellent use of a small, but succinct space, while the concentrated intimacy of the action leaves the audience enveloped in the story.
Aside from a few discrepancies in tone, Lane’s script is thoughtful and original. Every time it seems the plot is about to get formulaic, the audience finds themselves surprised with a new approach to all-too-common themes.
Just when Lydia’s diatribes with her dead brother start to become overdone, Johnny’s role in the play comes to an end. Execution and script alike are first-rate, making this a play that should not be missed.
To learn more about Psychomachia, which runs through December 19th at Shetler Studios, visit www.Psychomachiatheplay.com.