By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The house at which he’s so inauspiciously arrived is home to three middle-class sisters whose father is away on business. (No, they’re not planning to move to Moscow — or even to Boston.) Faith is the dreamer, Hope (Samantha Montgomery) the melancholy one. The eldest, Charity (Heather De Sisto), who witnessed their mother killed by the same Indians who then kidnapped her, is a morbid cynic who’s visiting from New England. Something of a fourth sister, a surly Irish servant girl named Megan, immediately strikes up a love-hate thing with Savage, venting upon him resentments of things British while basking in his witty repartee and formidable knowledge of kite flying.
In her own way, Megan is actually a pagan version of Faith — we first meet the servant applying some postmortem dentistry to a hanged soldier, acquiring the dead man’s tooth for a bit of conjuring. The Redcoat’s spirit (Matt Saunders), however, is none too appreciative, and soon begins haunting Megan, even as other parts of his still-roped corpse begin disappearing. Almost as frightening is the appearance of Charity’s upright minister husband (Ira Steck), who’s been scandalized by his runaway wife and arrives to win her back and to lecture us about the Indians.
As might be guessed, Savage becomes, to varying degrees, the objet d’amour of all the women characters, even as he delivers self-loathing soliloquies. Director Thomas Craig Elliott nicely layers on the first act’s outré atmosphere, with assistance from Matt Richter’s twilight lighting plot and Meg Taylor’s moody sound design. There’s a sense of mystery here, and it’s not confined to guessing who’s going to get laid first — something’s not quite right about our poet, and the unease we begin to feel about Savage bleeds through much of the show’s humor. Unfortunately, Davis never fleshes out, so to speak, that mystery until the very end of threeacts. By then his mildly spooky play has wound down like a Chekhovian rewrite of Dark Shadows.
Elliott’s production has its own problems, mostly stemming from a cast whose actors cannot move their voices beyond a tone of plaintive declaration. This is a play whose characters really need to distinguish themselves from one another (although Carpenter is marked by a deep suntan), but Elliott is satisfied to have them all sounding virtually alike. The ensemble’s deadpan tone has worked before for other Meadows Basement projects, especially Hors d’oeuvres, but as good as it is to see a young company stretch, the new material seems a bit out of reach for them. Only (and it’s a big only) Boulware has both the vocal ordnance and the sophistication to carry his role, and every moment he’s on the scene takes flight.
But he cannot shoulder this long evening alone. The titular raree is a small wooden box with an eyehole through which characters glimpse edifying scenes from the Bible or literature. Savage has brought one with him from England; its oblong shape is a not very subtle allusion to death, although after two hours of this gothic melodrama, it begins to remind us of another kind of box, one normally found in a living room with a remote control resting nearby.
BITTER BIERCE, OR, THE FRICTION WE CALL GRIEF | By MAC WELLMAN | BOTTOM’S DREAM at the Zephyr Theater, 7456 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood | (323) 860-9860 | Through August 13
RAREE| By K.C. DAVIS | MEADOWS BASEMENT at Theatre/Theater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood | (323) 782-6218 | Through August 15