"Truth or illusion, Martha," says George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? "Do you know the difference?" In a way, playwright David Turkel implicitly uses those words as the jumping-off point for his Key to the Field, receiving its world premiere from Bricolage Productions.
We meet married couple Patsy and Skip at some unexplained breaking point in their relationship: Unnamed outside forces are creating an unexpressed internal pressure. Then, suddenly, they -- and Skip, specifically -- are overtaken by an unforeseen and uncontrollable event.
We follow Skip into a nightmarish trip down a decidedly unrosy path. The situation becomes exceptionally bleak, and just when you think it can't get worse ...
... it does, and he gets trapped in yet another horrifying situation. We linger here for a bit, and just when you think it can't get worse ...
... Turkel yanks us into another reality that's maybe related to one of the several we've already seen.
Whew! I managed to get through all of that without revealing any of Turkel's elaborate, if not rococo, theater tricks. And I think I made it sound like I understood Turkel's work -- which, in a larger sense, I'm not really sure that I did.
But that is by no means a bad thing. When so much theater is recycled sit-coms, Turkel's enormous vision and wholly original voice is bliss. My lack of comprehension may well be a comment on my limitations, and not those of this Iowa-based playwright.
But Turkel, whose previous Bricolage productions include Wild Signs and Holler, has purposefully set out to mystify and unmoor us. His opening scene in Key to the Field, a theatrical MacGuffin, introduces a style and story he has no intention of following through. (He does hint at his own duplicity with references to the Belgian surrealist Magritte.)
While I enjoyed Key to the Field a great deal -- Turkel is a treasure as a playwright, with his sharp, swift dialogue and outlandishly outfitted characters -- I can't really say the play's as dramaturgically successful as one might hope. And, unfortunately, because of all his twists and surprises, I can't explain why without giving too much away.
But that's just minor carping. There's no question it's a night well spent with Turkel's talent and this impeccable production, with extraordinary direction from Jed Allen Harris, whose greatest achievement is fashioning a solid spine for a work that could have been jerky and disjointed. And with knockout performances by Sam Turich, Martin Giles and Tami Dixon, it's unlikely that Turkel, or the audience, will ever have a better-acted production of this decidedly curious but ultimately compelling piece of theater.
Key to the Field continues through Oct. 7. Bricolage Theater, 937 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-381-6999.
- Game of shadows: Sam Turich (left) in Key to the Field, at Bricolage Productions