Jessica Gercke in Parlour Song at Backyard Renaissance
  • Jessica Gercke in Parlour Song at Backyard Renaissance
  • Image by Daren Scott
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Parlour Song

Toward the end of Jez Butterworth’s eerie, Pinteresque Parlour Song, Dale ruminates. What if you find a door in your house you never knew was there before. “Would you open it?”

Ned blows up buildings for a living. He says you can stand in a “buffer zone,” watch the demolition, and be safe. “Nothing’s going to hurt you in the buffer zone.”

His neighbor Dale envies Ned’s vocation. Dale owns a chain of car washes (“I wash cars. Cars, Ned”). He’d love to get his hands on “a thousand tons of TNT.”

Ned and Joy, eleven years married, live in a newly built suburban home. Although the next is only six feet away, and all look the same, he’s convinced the tract’s a safety zone. Then he starts losing possessions.

The mystery may have a simple solution: to keep his job, Ned can’t take any medication, even to sleep, which he stopped doing long ago. So he’s hallucinating absent fishing rods, the lawnmower, and the collected works of H.G. Wells? But that doesn’t explain why Joy chopped six-dozen lemons to make lemonade, or where the blank Scrabble square came from.

If Jez Butterworth’s Parlour Song were a lake, the surface would be mirror-still. But sea beasts lurk and rove below, and now it’s feeding time.

Five years ago a forest gave way to their housing tract. Now Ned’s razing a popular shopping center. The demolitions are coming closer. Safety zones are breaking down — even psychological buffers.

Backyard Renaissance, a brand new company, opened its inaugural doors with a stark, funny, and eerie production. Co-founders and Craig Noel Award-winners Francis Gercke and Jessica John Gercke will produce works with an “art to the gut” sensibility. Parlour Song is Exhibit A of their mission statement.

Parlour Song at Backyard Renaissance

The Gerckes, real life husband and wife, do outstanding work. Francis gives Dale a jerky, oiled presence when he narrates and when he interacts with Dale and Joy. You can read his smile several ways. Jessica John subtly reveals yearnings beneath Joy’s patient veneer. Is she stealing Dale’s stuff? One look says sure; the next, no way. Is she stealing away?

Lisa Berger directs with a detailed understanding of the play and its cue-rich quirks. And her husband, Mike Sears, does a splendid job as Ned. Sears doesn’t weigh near enough for the rotund character. But he score’s with the man’s extremes – this attentive, adoring husband blows up what? – and draws humor from deftly performed ineptitudes. And oh can he hurt!

Michael McKeon’s useful, apparently modest set has a surprising, major league prop-reveal. Peet Cocke’s often somber lighting, John’s suggestive costumes, and Matt Lescault-Wood’s sounds combine for an appropriate, almost prison-like atmosphere.

Butterworth’s a mite symbol-happy. There’s a drought, for example, and demolition reaches for significance. Backyard’s visual suggestion of a prison is more apt, since release — leaving through that door — makes even the incarceration of regulated living feel like a safety zone.

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