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Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
The only domestic situation as crazy-making as being cooped up with a fussy infant is looking after a senile invalid—or so playwright Clare Lizzimore seems to suggest in Animal. No wonder Rachel (Rebecca Hall) is at her wits’ end, fantasizing a phantom prowler/lover (David Pegram, cheerfully game) when she isn’t snapping at her concerned husband (Morgan Spector, Hall’s real-life spouse), spoon-feeding her mother-in-law (Kristin Griffith, scarily slack when not throwing a fit), or sassing her way through sessions with a seemingly ineffectual therapist (Greg Keller).
Rachel is apparently overwhelmed by the stress of serving as a “carer” (British for caregiver). Might you guess early on, though, that she isn’t exactly compos mentis, and that everything seen through her perspective is just a bit skewed? Unfortunately, yes. As Rachel unravels—thrillingly, in Hall’s hands—we’re always at least a few steps ahead, right up to the supposed shocker of a final twist.
It’s easy to see why Hall was drawn to this material: She gets to span the emotional gamut, from brittle to ferocious. And although Rachel’s off-the-wall digressions outshine the central narrative, this intimate production presents an exceptional opportunity to witness, up close, an actress of Hall’s force probing the limits of custodial rage. Rachel is clearly thrashing in the deep end of psychosis. But perhaps, Hall’s unsettling performance demonstrates, the grueling quotidian tasks of attending to the helpless can trigger latent cruelty among even the most caring people.
Atlantic Stage 2 (Off Broadway). By Clare Lizzimore. Directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch. With Rebecca Hall. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through June 13.
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