Man Alone Productions’ 3 Screams: Art On Art

Image by Shane Regan.
Image by Shane Regan.

Art is the central topic of discussion from the moment one enters Theater Off Jackson in order to see Man Alone Productions’ (MAP) West Coast premiere production of Vincent Delaney’s 3 Screams.

Specifically, it is Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” that serves as the centerpiece for the evening, though really it’s more of a McGuffin, a central device that affects all of the characters in the story and helps to drive the plot forward. As such, I can’t talk too much about the role the painting has in the overall scheme of things without giving away some important details that come into play during the first two scenes of the show. Suffice it to say that Munch’s masterwork is a linchpin in the lives of Edvard (no relation), Tulla (Edvard’s wife) and Gunnar (their son).

Edvard (Michael Oaks) is a haughty, desperate and broken man who has just committed a heist of the object d’art in question. He is both compelled and repelled by the painting, and as he vacillates between awed reverence and aggressive condescension (for he speaks directly to the painting as if it were a sentient being), the depths of his insecurity and jealousy become clear; for he is not just a failed artist, he is a self-perceived mediocre artist. This has driven him mad and quickly he starts turning on his accomplices in the caper.

We meet Tulla (Erin Ison) in the immediate aftermath of the first monologue; if Edvard represents the artist’s relationship with Art, then Tulla gives us the average person’s take on Art. The impact and importance of Munch’s work is a given during these first two scenes, but it drives Tulla to great distraction. Something traumatic has just occurred, our time with Tulla is spent watching her regain her composure and her memory of these events. In the process we learn that Art has no immediate effect on her life; its impact is hidden, subliminal — it’s only in hindsight that the painting’s import becomes clear.

We are then introduced to Gunnar (Brandon Ryan), twenty years after the events in the second monologue. While his parents treat “The Scream” as an object of great power, with Gunnar we find that this power is taken for granted, his acceptance of the work is nearly matter of fact because he has lived with the work all of his life. While he respects the work, it doesn’t influence him the same way it did his parents, and so he seeks a baser understanding, which he hopes to achieve by making the pilgrimage out to the specific location of Munch’s inspiration.

At least, that’s what I took away from 3 Screams, which is the kind of meaning I was looking for when I sat down to watch the show. After all, what is our relationship with art but the meaning we derive from our experience with a piece of work? MAP’s production emphasizes this definition and accentuates the proceedings by commissioning artists to provide their takes using “The Scream” as the point of inspiration.

Local playwright Vince Delaney has written a smart and clever play, one with a deep vein of dark humor. He has created three distinct worlds for his characters, and has hidden a handful of layers within their speech and actions. For a while I had forgotten that this was an original work — at least for a part the first act I thought I was witnessing a direct translation of some radical piece of European Socialist Agitprop, what with Edvard screaming about all artists being equal and artistic genius being overrated.

The cast, more than ably directed by Mary Machala, deliver the material well, each mining the vein of comedy in their distinct way. Oaks’s Edvard is all manic mannerisms and semi-violent mood swings betraying a sweaty desperation beneath the bluster; Ison gives Tulla’s hairpin turns of speech a stunned bemused quality, slowly making sense out of a dire situation. Ryan, who has the monologue that seems to belong in our current day and age the most, gives a fittingly realistic weighted performance. Even Peggy Gannon has a grounded performance filled with gravity and playfulness.

MAP’s production team makes great use of Theater Off Jackson, one of my favorite theatrical venues in town. Michael Mowery’s layered set design create the perfect atmosphere for each scene; also Shane Regan’s sound design is given an appropriate moment to shine toward the end of the evening, which he nails.

All in all, there is nothing about this production to complain about and much to celebrate. Entertainingly humorous, it’s the kind of show that plays to the audience’s attention to character detail while providing a few delicious tension-filled moments of unexpected meaning. Wholly rewarding.

Review originally printed on the pages of Seattlest, no longer functioning.

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