Starting at around ten minutes after the lights come up on MOTHS, you may begin to worry that you’ve gone mad. Don’t panic – this is a perfectly appropriate response to this perfectly bizarre comedy, written by Stephen Notes and directed by Roma Rogers.
The piece tells the story of Roy (Stephen Notes) and Lili (Alexandra Friendly), who may or may not be lovers, and who were once artists, but are now reduced to conning strangers in order to afford mysterious “medicine.” Friendly’s depiction of the mutilation-happy Lili, who wants nothing more than to stab and to vivisect, crackles with preposterous energy, while Notes excels in his role as the cringing, perpetually ill Roy.
The two are compelled to and directed in their life of crime by Marcus (also played by Notes), who might actually exist, might be an alternate personality of Roy’s, or might simply be a hallucination. It’s delightfully hard to say for sure. There are also moths involved, voiced by the superb Friendly, though they mainly sit menacingly in a cage until the final moments of the play.
Roy and Lili’s potential victim (or possibly victims) is (or possibly are) a dysfunctional father/son pair played hilariously and simultaneously by Anika Harden.
MOTHS presents quite a unique set of difficulties for its actors. Harden and Notes both spend significantly more stage time arguing with themselves, achieved through rapid shifts in accent, body language, and vocal pitch, than they do interacting with each other, or with Friendly.
Absolute precision is required to pull off every scene, and though the actors have it, it’s still not entirely clear what the hell is going on. Not that being in the dark, narratively speaking, necessarily detracts from the audience’s enjoyment, but anyone who insists on a coherent, accessible plot will come away frustrated.
by Stephen Notes
at Fort Fringe – The Bedroom
612 L Street NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
The expertly crafted confusion is in part due to the thoughtful sound design of Chris Kurtz (with contributions from Alexandra Friendly). From the pre-show music to the creeping ambient noises throughout the play, Kurtz’s sound worms its way into audience members’ subconscious minds, laying the psychological groundwork and allowing Notes’ script and Rogers’ directorial vision to work their darkly hysterical magic.
Using the inherently funny premise of the show and its structure as a springboard, Notes, Friendly, and Harden bring MOTHS to a level above and beyond expectations. Notes and Friendly have a compellingly difficult on-and-off chemistry which complements their characters’ confusing relationship nicely, while Harden works brilliantly with – well, herself – to bring to life an impressive father/son comedy duo.
How exactly the moths contribute to the big picture in MOTHS is, oddly enough, hard to say. They are at times a peace offering from Roy, an object of Lili’s fascination, and the subject of one of several memorable Father vs Son arguments. They cry out to be freed, but it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s priority. The show’s title would seem to indicate that the moths should play a central role, but in reality, they are just another object meant to arouse the audience’s wonder.
Though the moths are overshadowed by other aspects of the show, MOTHS makes for hilarious and compelling theater. Its sounds, its actors, and its premise are just precisely weird enough to engage interest and repel understanding in a highly amusing way.