The Twin Cities’ new Workhaus Collective is pursuing a playwright-based paradigm, staging exclusively new work and granting writers artistic-director authority for the duration of their projects. Its inaugural production of Trista Baldwin’s “Doe” is an appropriately vigorous exercise in experimentation and transgression, an unsettling, dreamlike work that eschews conventional story structure in favor of a stop-start version of reality grounded in the murky halls of the subconscious.
At the onset, a woman alternately known as Jan and Jane (Tracey Maloney) wakes in a rather squalid hotel bed next to a nearly nude woman (Annie Enneking) who remains unnamed throughout the evening. With the logic of a somnambulist, Jan/e proceeds to resist the charms of her lovely companion — until later scenes, when they reverse roles, fight, make love, reject, embrace and generally play out the multi-forking road of reality.
Soon entering the picture is John (Casey Grieg), Jan/e’s daytime love interest and a generally confounded man. What emerges, through repeated scene changes punctuated by an onstage blackout and re-lighting (some scenes last only moments) is that John and Jan/e have an unhappy relationship, and that Jan/e is passionately tempted by the other woman. Another possibility is that the other woman represents an unsatisfied sector of Jan/e’s soul: There are tantalizing passages in which Enneking’s character acts as an interlocutor unseen by the hapless John.
If this sounds like a difficult work, it is. Baldwin’s script is elliptical, but she has an astute hand with dialogue (including a resurgent sense of humor that keeps the action from sinking). And Hayley Finn’s able cast tackles the material with a mixture of intellectual comprehension and a more primal streak of sensuality.
There is a sense in this production that the work has yet to entirely shake out, and on opening night the perfs were undeniably rushed. Still, Maloney and Enneking do raw and gutsy work, and Grieg manages a good take on a somewhat sparse character.
Ultimately, things succeed on the basis of Baldwin’s very fine script. The roadmap to a particularly aroused and troubled country of the soul, it palpably evokes the echoes of both the past and every version of the present that we will never see.