Sometimes the world inside our heads is a lot brighter than the real world outside. In Jennifer Faletto’s affecting Domestic Animals, a young woman tries to embrace her fractured new life, even the ghosts of her past threaten to pull her further from reality.
In the cozy Logan Fringe upstairs theater, Faletto has created an engrossing, sympathetic journey through intense psychological trauma, from genesis to resolution. As the lights come up, we find siblings Lori, (Christine Callsen) and Lee, (Andrew Keller,) fighting over Lee’s decision to leave home for the wilds of the Canadian north. Callsen and Keller’s chemistry is evident right away, as they banter playfully over childhood stories and conflicting desires for comfort and wanderlust. But the sibling bonding doesn’t last long.
Lighting and scenic designer Christopher Annas-Lee’s unleashes a dreamy Northern Lights display that transports the audience to the border of reality, and suddenly it’s unclear if Lori’s mind is sound. Callsen shows off her emotional and physical range as mood swings and body spasms take over. Keller reappears as kind psych worker Josh, who has apparently been taking care of Lori for some months. The same chemistry is evident, with Keller taking to the role of kind protector like a duck to water.
After some revealing back and forth between patient and orderly, we soon meet Matt, Lori’s wayward soldier boyfriend, and Lance, the kind janitor. Jeremy Hunter plays both parts in turn, switching personas with aplomb as Lori’s mind continues to fracture. Hunter’s kind, emotional presence is the key to both Lori’s madness…and her salvation.
by Jennifer Faletto
Directed by Linda Lombardi
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The final scene features Callsen’s wonderful emotional range, as well as an atmospheric lighting master class from Annas-Lee. The climax is a fitting ode to the carefully arranged emotional scaffolding that precedes it. Director Linda Lombardi should take a bow for marshaling her dramatic resources toward such an eerie, magical payoff, where it feels like you’re floating between realities along with Lori.
It’s a rare Fringe show that feels like it could be staged at a major theater tomorrow – and Domestic Animals is just such a show. The quality acting, tricky metaphysical themes, compelling emotional drama, and transportive lighting and scene design wouldn’t look out of place on the main stage at Arena Stage or Studio Theatre. Here’s hoping it gets a crack at the big time.