by Sarah Mann
The New England premiere of 'Entangled' is Salem Theatre Company's latest offering, written by SSU alumnus Leah A. Miles and directed by the very charming and talented Nate Bertone. STC's relatively new space has been transformed in to a cabin in the woods, decorated with a balance of childhood knick-knacks and cubist birch trees that multiply in to the darkness. The set is truly spectacular and as you enter you are encouraged to explore, ensconce and set yourself up in seats that are within the kitchen, living room and bedroom of the house.
The story of 'Entangled' follows the 'cabin in the woods' trope faithfully. Newlyweds Hillary and Ian are arriving for a honeymoon/New Years weekend at Ian's old family home on Peaks Island. The couple, already troubled with argument, are truly put to the iron when Ian's infamously spoken of and recently estranged best friend, Scott, shows up to crash the party.
The beginning of the play suffers from languid pacing and quiet delivery. Miles' offerings for the couple are limited to lengthy recounts of childhood memories with little to no tenderness and the newlyweds seem to slough through these sections as slowly as we imagine their trudge through the surrounding snow was.
Things soon heat up both literally and figuratively when Scott slips in unnoticed to tend the fire, suggesting his imminent return in to Ian's life and the stoking to come.
Scott (played by Lee Holmes) is every inch the villain. From his t-shirt, rather conspicuously depicting a wolf, to his grimacing pleasure in making others uncomfortable. Holmes plays him well; there's an almost frantic femininity to Scott in spite of his Paul Giamatti smile and tough-guy lilt. In combination he is a fascinating performer to watch, and it pays off to give him your undivided attention. However, the heavy-handedness with which the character is written paints Holmes in to a corner early and keeps him there. Scott is entirely the predator, the sociopath, offering up easily his dirty deeds and sinister intentions with zero nudging from the couple. It is not a spoiler to say that Scott and Ian's troubled childhood friendship was mostly the fault of Scott who is quite obviously insane. The lack of mystery makes John Manning's earnest Ian frustratingly passive. His ignorance to his best friend's true nature (who we are told has only very recently not been a significant part of Ian's life) borders on lunacy. It is not realistic that an empathetic person like Ian, would have suffered 15 to 20 years of friendship without having said to someone, 'we need to talk about Scott.'
Caroline Keeler's Hillary manifests in complete juxtaposition to Ian's ignorance. Her therapist profession and constant questioning pegs Scott's intentions immediately, leaving little to no dramatic tension between the pair. A scene in which Scott and Hillary are left alone by Ian to bond has promise and is very well performed by both actors. However what should be an extremely tense and foreboding slow burn is too explicitly spelled out and sacrifices sizzle for sincerity. 'If we make it out of here' Hillary says at one point when regarding the cabin. 'He's always been good at manipulating things' Ian says of Scott's marionettes. When combined they form a play that is more breadcrumb than path. A trimmer, more efficient version of the script would better display the cast's considerable talent.
Despite these difficulties, all three actors get to stretch themselves in a story with the same ups and downs of the suggested cliffs outside the window, and Bertone's sensational setting and direction provide the perfect playground for them do so. The dark thematic content is not for the faint of heart, but is worthy of discussion and response. Overall the experience of the production is quite intentionally not unlike Hillary and Scott's first sip of celebratory champagne, holding promise but proving bitter.
'Entangled' runs through October 1st Thursdays & Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.
Sarah J. Mann is an Australian ex-pat best known for taking jobs away from hard working American citizens in the twenty years she has called the United States her home. Additionally she is an actress, playwright and poet living in Salem. Her chapbook 'You Are Not Buffalo' was published by YesNo Press in January of 2015. Her tryptic of plays 'The Apartment Complex' was awarded the Robert C. Hamlet Best New Play Award for it's installment '12-B.' Her plays have been produced in Maine and Massachusetts.