One Extraordinary Darkness
By Judith Newmark
POST-DISPATCH THEATER CRITIC
Climbing the stairs to the garret of the stately old house where "One Extraordinary Darkness" is playing, some members of the Saturday night audience glanced through the open door of a bathroom. Where a young man lolled in the tub.
Later, after the audience had relocated to the garage for the play's elliptical conclusion, a man stormed in to protest something about parking. Despite what some theatergoers assumed, he wasn't an actor, and he wasn't part of the show.
Does anybody have more fun doing theater than the OnSite company?
Specializing in site-specific theater, OnSite presents new plays tailored to unusual spots around town. When you're in the mood for something different, they can't be topped.
OnSite continues that nontraditional tradition with "One Extraordinary Darkness" by Elizabeth Birkenmeier, a spooky little drama set in 1934.
As the play opens, Clarence (Joe Hanrahan) — a physicist, or perhaps a metaphysicist — almost trembles with excitement. He believes that, with the help of his gifted son (Robert Birkenmeier, the playwright's brother), he is on the verge of a stupendous breakthrough. Clarence's unstable wife (Margeau Baue Steinau) and their lovely, oddly precocious daughter (Adina Talve Goodman) are on hand for the occasion, along with Clarence's students. That last group is us — the audience.
The actors are so at ease, they seem as if they really do live in the Green Center. Steinau, who variously treats the long, curved staircase as her personal stage and her bed, implies an intimate, physical relationship with the house that suggests years of occupancy. She and Hanrahan make a persuasive married couple, too.
Director Bill Whitaker has Clarence lead us about the house and grounds a little more than strictly necessary in terms of the story, but in terms of OnSite it makes sense. Every time we move, we change our relationship with the actors — and, perhaps, with the drama. At the very least, we get a chance to stretch.