The weather may be going AWOL in newcomer Clare Pollard's smashing play of the same name, but such tempests are nothing compared to the chaos generated inside the home by a family whose disarray has a near-westerly force.
The weather may be going AWOL in newcomer Clare Pollard’s smashing play of the same name, but such tempests are nothing compared to the chaos generated inside the home by a family whose disarray has a near-westerly force. Dad (Jonathan Coy) is losing his grip and (eventually) his job, mom (Helen Schlesinger) is a washed-up chatterbox of a poet with a wild sexual streak and teen daughter Ellie (Nathalie Press) is overflowing with a bile barely less contained than the forces rampaging outdoors, where terrorists are causing more damage than has already been done by the elements.
You will have gathered, then, that “The Weather” isn’t exactly a quiet play, which is just as well, since Pollard’s talent — not to mention director Ramin Gray’s production — is worth making a noise over. The even better news is that this longish one-act (80 minutes) has been paired in the tiny Royal Court studio space with a 25-minute piece, “Bear Hug,” by Robin French, another fledgling scribe also in his mid-20s. Together, the two don’t exactly give enormous hope for the future of the family, though they couldn’t make one more optimistic about the ongoing vitality of the theater.
What’s most disconcerting about “The Weather” turns out to be its trump card: Pollard’s introduction into the action of a poltergeist (or even several), who are represented by scurrying figures dressed tip-to-toe in black. As if it weren’t enough to have the world crashing to the ground outside, the domestic environment offers little refuge, either. It doesn’t bode well when glasses start falling on the floor, and the kettle and the toaster change places. But things get considerably worse when increasingly rude words mysteriously appear spray-painted on the kitchen cabinets: “pervert,” “cunt,” etc.
How is a mother to react? If you’re Schlesinger’s all-stops-out Gail, you seek refuge in the drinks trolley and hide your libido as well as you can behind chunky jewelry. Or, conversely, wait until your rebellious daughter has invited to dinner her toothsome 17-year-old drummer boyfriend, Frank (Alex Robertson) before indulging a degree of suggestiveness to make the child of any parent squirm.
The play has the notably febrile energy that comes with a supernatural streak that, without giving anything away, is cunningly folded into the meaning of the piece as a whole. (Think metaphorically, and you’ll get it.) At the same time, separate out the machinations of the poltergeist, and you still have an unusually searching portrait of mother-daughter dynamics in extremis: filmmakers searching for someone who can anatomize an age-old relationship afresh owe Pollard at least a look.
And though imminent-apocalypse plays are by now almost a hoary genre in themselves, Pollard refracts her bleak post-millennial vision through a distinctive voice. Someone’s fingers, we’re told, are “perfect, like peeled prawns,” while shoes are referred to as “little empty vaginas” (that description must surely be a first).
Playwright French, in “Bear Hug,” is hardly the first to bring the ursine species to the stage. After all, there’s scarcely a more famous stage direction than that of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”: “Exit, pursued by bear.”
French’s witty and rather moving caprice could be subtitled, “Enter, amputated by bear,” since such is the sorry fate of Linda (Schlesinger again, completing a terrific double-act) that gets inflicted upon her by brooding son Michael (Robertson) — who, yes, has become a bear. (His parents put it more blithely, deciding, “He’s not himself.”)
It’s a lot for even the most angry child to claw off a parent’s hands, and French finds a surprising degree of comic grand guignol in the consequences: One of mom’s fingers, for instance, comes off in the dinner. But while David (Coy), the father, is scanning literature titled “Keeping Bears in Captivity: A Beginner’s Guide” — and contemplating the uselessness of all Michael’s paid-for French lessons — the play equally bravely comes down on the side of love, not just gross-out effects (of which there are quite a few). In “Bear Hug,” a wayward child is seen literally eviscerating, more or less, his own father, but that, too, works as metaphor: What more dramatic way to depict a broken heart?
As with “The Weather,” the actors are all in peak form, bustling about a brightly lit stage dominated by the gladiatorial arena that is the kitchen.
If Schlesinger stands out, that’s because she presents two utterly distinctive mothers, each recognizable but neither one a type. And when, in the first play, she crawls atop the table to inspect the contents of her maid’s pockets, a play called “The Weather” seems doubly apt, since it can be said to star a human tornado.
The Weather/ Bear Hug
Bear Hug: Frank - Alex Robertson Linda - Helen Schlesinger David - Jonathan Coy Michael - Alex Robertson