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Trap Door Theatre. By Ken Prestininzi. Directed by Kate Hendrickson. With Lyndsay Rose Kane, Chris Popio, Mike Steele, Gage Wallace, Carl Wisniewski. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Ken Prestininzi’s world-premiere dreamscape addresses something or some things about our modern landscape of free speech, but it’s impossible to tell what exactly. In Kate Hendrickson’s production at Trap Door, Cookie Play takes on the surveillance state, Edward Snowden–style whistleblowing, Christianist religious superiority, federal and mass-media terror-forming and a number of other current concerns. But it applies a lamentable lack of specificity in its tale of a potential new Snowden-like young man, remanded to secret captivity in his parents’ Dearborn, Michigan home to be interrogated by a pair of cartoonish government agents while his mother helplessly looks on and bakes batch after batch of cookies. Prestininzi’s vision here comes across like an impressionist painting of a Michael Moore fever dream.
Prestininzi squanders the first 40 of his 100 minutes on repetitive, aimless anti-authoritarian posturing before laying out his fantasia’s actual premise: An unintelligent pair of intelligence agents, both named Frank and more invested in getting ahead of their colleagues than serving any real security interest, propose to place young detainee Tommy (Gage Wallace, admirably committed to the abstract semaphore physicality that’s been assigned to him) in a “black site” comprised of his parents’ basement.
The agents suggest to Tommy’s neurotic mother, Harriet (Lyndsay Rose Kane), that they need her motherly skills to unlock the stubborn prisoner—though the Franks then refuse to offer her access to her son, in one of many ways Cookie Play frustratingly fails to conform to its own logic. And that’s even before, I think, the bizarre “House of Pain” rap interlude in which the Franks present a précis for enhanced interrogation—a stylistic departure that might work in a piece with more variations from the straightforward, but just comes across as an unearned anomaly here.
I do my best to engage with new plays on their own terms, but try as I might, I’m absolutely baffled as to what Cookie Play is trying to be. Packed with empty signifiers, not to mention gratuitous gay-baiting, Prestininzi's play is frustrating in a way that's somehow both vague and smug. Hendrickson's unclear staging, too, is strewn with cookie crumbs, but they don't make much of a trail.