In one of their best productions, Jobsite Theater staged a riveting interpretation of Radha Bharadwaj's "Closetland." Gavin Hawk directed David M. Jenkins and Katrina Stevenson in this dystopian story about abuse, terror and the mind.
"Closetland" is set in an unnamed time, in an unnamed country, where an unidentified man (Jenkins) and woman (Stevenson) confront each other in a police interrogation room. A children's book writer, the woman has been charged with using this forum for political subversion. The man is an agent in the fascist government, and he has been tasked to draw a confession from the woman.
The man expertly tortures his prisoner. He plays mind games with her, distorting her sense of truth and time. He acts sympathetic, just doing his job, only to turn around and inflict excruciating pain. He blindfolds her and alters his voice to trick her into confessing to a different character in the room. He lies to her. He treats her like a child and a whore, and it's nearly impossible to distinguish the line between the two.
Through it all, the woman maintains her innocence. The abuse forces her to deconstruct the meaning of her work, her process of imagination, the truth of her intentions. In the end, she recognizes that he can break her body, but not her mind.
While the playwright deserved kudos for crafting an exquisitely multidimensional drama, Jobsite, too, did an amazing job conveying every layer. On the surface, the audience saw a government-issued abuser and victim. This configuration, however, could have just as easily represented a domestic situation.
Within the paradoxical paradigm of abuse, Jenkins' volatility was frightening and unpredictable, yet at the same time charming and soothing. I found it difficult to hate the character, even though he was a truly horrible man.
Stevenson also beautifully conveyed the play's complexity. She huddled in her interrogator's suit jacket, comforted by its warmth. This jacket also must have smelled of the man who tortured her. She accepted this double-edged "embrace" while fending off his accusations.
Hawk's sound direction and Brian Smallheer's lighting contributed to the state of horror. The sights and sounds meant to further the woman's confusion added second and third dimensions to the story. Was this reality? Or was this scenario a dream in which the woman finally came to terms with her past? It was possible that the interrogation room and all it contained were, in fact, facets of the woman's repressed psyche.
Without being too graphic, this production was disturbing and not for the faint-hearted. Two patrons walked out after one nasty scene, presumably because of it. Still, "Closetland" is worth a look for high production values and a lesson in psychology.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday; through July 29
Where: Straz Center, Shimberg Playhouse, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa
Running Time: 85 minutes