Cabin fever takes on a whole new meaning in the latest Persephone production, Dead Midnight.
This past Friday night marked the world premiere of Geoffrey Ursell’s newest play at the Remai Arts Centre. The thriller, set in Northern Saskatchewan, revolves around a man named Dane, his wife Carly and her sister Doris. The action of the play serves as a kind of countdown to midnight, during which Dane insists he has to finish a mysterious project before the clock strikes 12.
Dane is a very interesting character. At first you find him likable and caring toward his wife. Later on, however, the audience becomes more aware of the true nature of his relationship with Carly. Initially, I found the actress playing Carly to be consistently missing the point. She did everything lightly, her movements were not deliberate and every line she said seemed too measured. She gave the constant impression of walking on eggshells. However, you soon learn that this effect was, in fact, highly intentional.
As the play progresses Dane reveals himself to be a fanatical environmentalist obsessed with “peace and balance.” He forbids music, television and film in his home, claiming that such media keep his family under the influence and control of the evil “World Order.”
Throughout the play we are reminded of the dangers of the world outside the small cabin wherein the entire play takes place. There is a harsh blizzard, wolves, bears and other threats just waiting to ruin the perfect life Dane has built for himself and Carly. There is no bigger threat to this bliss than Carly’s sister, Doris. Or, as Dane likes to call her, “Poison Woman.”
Doris’s role in the play serves as both comedic relief and rude awakening. Without her arrival in the dead of night, the audience would not come to the realization of how deranged Dane really is. It soon becomes apparent that the true threat is not outside at all, but within the walls of the cabin.
After Doris shows up, the action of the play gets increasingly more intense as the characters begin to turn on each other and startling secrets are revealed. It becomes starkly evident that someone is not going to live through the night. The rest of the play is dedicated to finding out who that unlucky soul will be.
There are parts of the play that are legitimately frightening. It deals with a cornucopia of social problems ranging from domestic abuse to nuclear power to poaching.
However, one thing that frustrated me was the audience. There were certainly humorous parts of the play that warranted a few chuckles. I wasn’t sure, however, that a thriller that dealt with serious issues like abuse and murder warranted such uproarious laughter from the crowd. Perhaps that was the intention and I have no sense of humour, but I found it extremely off-putting.
Dead Midnight is both well-structured and frightening with a satisfying conclusion. Had it not been for my aversion to the audience, my enjoyment of the play would have been totally unhindered.
Dead Midnight runs until Sept. 28 at Persephone Theatre.
“graphic”: Bryn Becker/The Sheaf