The tortured mind of an over-protective parent can be mighty distressing — living in perpetual fear of the bogeyman lurking around every corner, sleep-deprived beyond reason. That neurosis is examined in “The Velvet Sky,” a quirky excursion into delusional territory by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, debuting at Woolly Mammoth Theater. D.C. native Aguirre-Sacasa represents the new breed of young playwright whose characters often search for reality in a world overflowing with information and noise, explains Woolly’s a.d., Howard Shalwitz. That predicament more or less sums up “Sky,” a mixed treatment of insanity and its effects on the family.
The mother of a 12-year-old son hasn’t slept a wink since his birth, so afraid is she that the Sandman will come to gouge out his eyes. Instead, she sits up nights knitting and fretting her way to delusional frenzy. Her tormented husband decides to flee with the young lad to New York City, where the forces of good and evil give chase through Gotham’s seedy precincts, or so she dreams in her ultimate nightmare.
In parallel with the woman’s damaged psyche, the play itself occupies a world suspended somewhere between comedy and drama. Although he takes an offbeat approach typical of Woolly Mammoth productions, the playwright only occasionally reaches for laughs as he lays out the sobering subject. Nor does he seek empathy for the assemblage of caricatured individuals spouting lines that offer little depth. This is clearly by design, perhaps to stimulate discussion about today’s generation of compulsive soccer moms.
What “Sky” does offer is an abundance of imagery highlighted by the nursery rhymes recited and by Woolly’s lively production. Designer Scott Bradley has devised an appealing set featuring a tiny house that cracks like an egg to open the proceedings. A plain fabric backdrop is dominated by a floating crescent moon, also cracked. Other expert touches include Colin K. Bills’ eerie lighting and some nicely appropriate music composed by Martin Desjardins and Vincent Olivieri.
Director Rebecca Bayla Taichman keeps the action flowing, aided by a competent cast that includes Jeanine Serralles as the hopelessly neurotic mother and the busy Will Gartshore as the exasperated dad fighting his own demons. Matthew Stadelmann is a picture of adolescent confusion as the son eager to begin losing his innocence. Rick Foucheux’s sinister Sandman comes in several entertaining disguises, while Dawn Ursula and Michael Russotto provide enthusiastic support.
The ensemble copes gallantly with the material, but would benefit from some added dimension from the author as would the play’s thesis.