Stray Cat Theatre presents the Arizona premiere of the play in a production full of bleakness, with beautiful performances by Brittney Watson and Nathaniel Smith as the unlikely friends.
While Throne's [SIC] script doesn't fully flesh out Eli's relationship with Hakan or Oskar's with his parents, and also brings up a few small questions that are never truly answered, director Ron May derives refined performances from his cast and does well in not rushing the action, which allows the relationship between Eli and Oskar to grow organically in scenes that are well paced. May also lets the tension slowly build while keeping the creepy moments and eerie atmosphere always present.
Brittney Watson and Nathaniel Smith are incredibly good as Eli and Oskar. They deliver distinguished portrayals of these two awkward social butterflies. Watson is both mysterious and intriguing yet full of sadness as Eli, while Smith clearly depicts the innocence of a boy who is tired of being bulled and is somewhat needy in his desire to find a connection with someone. They both desperately want to find a friend, and the desperation is palpable from the actors' clear portrayals. Together they create many touching moments of the friendship, love and trust that develop for this unorthodox couple—two lost souls who, it seems, have finally found their soul mate. Smith was a last minute replacement in the part but you'd hardly notice from his clear, distinguished performance.
Duane Daniels doesn't have many lines of dialogue but his facial expressions say everything we need to know about Hakan, who kills for the young girl he loves but has deep regret in doing. His desire to have some sense of closeness to Eli is what drives him to continually risk his life to kill for her. Daniels' ability to deliver expressions of sadness, desperation, regret, and desire at the same time is quite remarkable.
In supporting parts, Brandon Caraco and Chase Zeiner are good as the school bullies, with Caraco the cocky leader and Zeiner the follower who has moments of resentment for his bad behavior. Kathleen Berger is effective as Oskar's vacant mother, who is prone to drink to wash away her problems, and Scott Hyder brings a strong sense of duty and responsibility as the gym coach at Oskar's school and an official who is trying to get to the bottom of the mysterious killings in town. Kaivan Mayelzadeh and Alex Kass round out the cast in several roles with Kass also providing the realistic fight choreography.
Aaron Sheckler's set design does well in depicting the cold, bleak, and dark locales, with the use of only some large poles that resemble white birch trees, patches of snow on the ground, a jungle gym set-up, a row of lockers, and a raised platform for some of the interior scenes. The bleak and atmospheric lighting and sound designs by Dallas Robert Nichols and Pete Bish help to successfully portray the cold and creepy surroundings, and Maci Cae Hosler's costumes are character specific.
Stray Cat Theatre's production features strong lead performances that are full of sadness and also a glimmer of hope, beautifully bringing to the stage this dark, sad tale of the ultimate outsiders who just want to be invited in vibrantly to life.