There are no spinning heads in Jackalope’s tense demonic-possession tale, but it might leave yours spinning.
If you walk into The Snare, a new play by Samantha Beach, expecting a typical tale of demonic possession (speaking in tongues, burning crosses, vomiting pea soup), the show’s subtlety and careful examination of modern faith might leave you disappointed. This would be a foolish opinion, of course, but, sadly, we live in a world where the opinions of fools must be accounted. Director Elana Boulos has delivered a taut, carefully drawn piece of family drama—one that audiences of all faiths (or who lack faith all together) would do well to see.
The heart of the play lies in the relationship between a mother and daughter who are being slowly torn apart. Abigail, played beautifully by Cyd Blakewell, is a recently-promoted pastor at a local megachurch. She and her science teacher husband, David (Joel Ewing, radiating decency and dadly uncool) are devout Christians, but they are also quite liberal and fit quite comfortably into modern life—so when their eighth grade daughter, Ruth (Caroline Heffernan), casually mentions that the devil’s been talking to her, they don’t quite know what to do. They are torn between treating Ruth’s issue as a problem of faith and a problem of mental health.
When their son Caleb (Sam Blin) accidentally lets the secret out at school—where of course it spreads like wildfire with nasty consequences, especially for Ruth’s standing on the basketball team—she begins to lash out. Complicating the picture even further is Ruth’s close relationship with Sloane (Paloma Nozicka), a hip, 20-something family friend, who seems, to Ruth at least, to represent everything that Abigail is not—namely, devoted to a God who seems not only distant, but entirely disinterested in answering humanity’s prayers.
Aside from a book that falls mysteriously off a shelf and a strangely persistent bobcat that yowls at their front door, Beach offers no actual “evidence” that the devil is actually speaking to Ruth. As in real life, the question of its presence (as well as God’s seeming absence) is more a question of inner truth—of trying to pierce the veil of individual consciousness and understand what is happening in the mind of an angry, confused child. In other words, it’s about being a parent. Beach has written a horror story that understands just how horrifying regular suburban life can be. (Although the interstitial songs and soundscape from designer Thomas Dixon add a bracing espresso shot of creepiness.)
Boulos makes great use of Ashley Wood’s long and beautifully articulated set; it feels like an average suburban living room/kitchen, but there’s something about its sheer depth that registers as unsettling—no matter where in the house there’s enough distance to at least one part of the set that something sinister could hide there out of sight. Boulos paces the show superbly, building tension scene by scene until it’s drawn so tight that it finally snaps. With an acting ensemble that deftly mixes precision with vulnerability, The Snare might just leave you wondering why you thought it needed all that other crap in the first place.
Jackalope Theatre at Broadway Armory Park. By Samantha Beach. Directed by Elana Boulos. With Caroline Heffernan, Sam Blin, Cyd Blakewell, Joel Ewing, Paloma Nozicka. Running time: 2hrs 20 mins; one intermission.