Truth be told, I’ve never been to Iceland. But I somehow doubt that Steve Yockey and Rorschach Theatre’s horror-strewn and homo-centric vignettes in the rolling world premiere Reykjavík are meant to be faithfully representative of the oddly hot Nordic tourist spot in the middle of the North Atlantic. That said, this magic-filled and darkly comic romp through Iceland’s capital does jive with descriptions of the island I have heard from friends: “depressingly friendly,” “like an enchanted lunar landscape,” and “like Disneyland for people who like weird meats and the cold.”
Almost all of the eight discrete-yet-interwoven scenes in Reykjavík deliver two distinct elements beyond their setting: an intense queer connection and the intervention of a local spiritual or magical entity that often results in violence. It’s a reliable formula; from a young tourist who is given magical headphones of self-realization while getting a blow job in a club to a youthful Icelandic prostitute who has a preternatural gift for fulfilling some specific (and sometimes dark) fantasies, Yockey gives audience members several angles of enjoyment for each vignette, once they understand his basic structure.
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You can revel in the often steamy, sometimes sweet connection between lovers. You can search for the hint of dread that Yockey drops early on in each scene, presaging the horror to come, and revel in the tension between. My favorite, however, is to eagerly await the magical element Yockey will choose to integrate, as it’s not often evident in the opening minutes of a scene. His technical brilliance shines through when he breaks hearts by breaking his patterns in the final scene, featuring wonder and openness (as opposed to romance and mystery), though also highlighted is a textbook example of “fridging.” It’s eye-catching in more than one way and shows why this is Yockey’s sixth NNPN rolling world premiere and second pickup by Rorschach in four years.
Local talent is the highlight of the acting corps with a few standouts. Josh Adams comes off a blazing stint in his Helen Hayes nominated lead in The Events to play roles here that trade blows of sinister ethereality, heart-stopping change, and wry frankness that charm throughout. Dylan Arredondo shows off range and discipline from catty power bottom to roughneck threat in looks that beg for larger roles on DC stages in the future. Director Rick Hammerly pulls some fine moments out of this cast, though I wonder if there was more tonal differentiation and interplay with an overall vision that could heighten this work even more. Most especially, Jenna Rossman and Diana Soltan do lots of work with only a little material, as there’s only one scene that really uses their talents.
closes March 3, 2019
Details and tickets
This paucity is a bit of a problem with this play, but not in the way you might think. Sporting eight scenes instead of more natural and thematically strong seven, the only scene featuring a pair of ladies instead of a pair of men is stuck oddly in the seventh and climactic spot. It seems like (and this is just conjecture) somewhere in the development of this play, someone gave a note to Steve Yockey that having a play where women were only dead or set dressing was problematic. Understandable, considering things like a pair of women’s roles literally called the Ambiance Sisters. But it’s evident that the scene featuring women hasn’t been given the care and attention as the rest, and it muddles the arc of the play. Perhaps a better note for Yockey would be that it is okay to write a play about transgressive queer male love (however pathologized by this script); if that’s what you want to do, do that. Perhaps a half-hearted attempt at diversification does more of a disservice than none at all.
Rorschach’s two-pronged brand of intensely layered design and freaky magical realism gets a lopsided treatment in Reykjavik. While freakiness of every stripe fills every scene, the design relies on a single device: a large screen dominating the upstage wall. While this element gets used to amazing effect in the opening club scene, projecting lines unhearable over thumping house music. But it really only returns for interstitial moments in the final scene. The remaining rather bare design isn’t up to Rorschach’s typical standards, perhaps because returning Set Designer Eric Grims is dealing with an unusual space for Rorschach, the Silver Spring Black Box. The relative lightness of the set design emphasizes Katie McCreary’s strong lighting design, and I wanted even more of her work, especially in the final moments, highlighting her already striking purple and chartreuse lighting.
But these criticisms come from a place of wanting this rather good play to become even greater. Unsurprisingly for a writer of Yockey’s caliber and a theatre of Rorschach’s skill, Reykjavik is a gem of horror and light, multifaceted in tense and occasionally brilliant ways. It has earned both an inquisitive audience and the cost of a ticket. Despite never having been to Iceland, I’d absolutely pay to fly to Reykjavik again.
Reykjavík by Steve Yockey. Directed by Rick Hammerly. Featuring Josh Adams, Dylan Arredondo, Jenna Rossman, Carlos Saldaña, Dina Soltan and Robert Bowen Smith. Set Design by Eric Grims. Lighting Design by Katie McCreary. Sound Design by Thomas Sowers. Video Design by Kylos Brannon. Props Design by Willow Watson. Fight Choreography by Casey Kaleba. Intimacy Choreography by Emily Sucher. Produced by Rorschach Theatre. Reviewed by Alan Katz.