Walk In Closet: The Horrors of Closet Land

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Wayne Stribling Jr. is a government investigator and Victoria Rabitcheff a young woman accused of crimes against the state in The Visceral Company's production of Closet Land, playing at NoHo Stages through July 23.

The Visceral Company is a horror theater production company, and even though their current show — playwright Radha Bharadwaj’s CLOSET LAND — is not about zombies (as their previous play, THE REVENANTS, was), it deals with real human fears and even indulges in a little (just a little) live gore. As with earlier Visceral Company productions, a small cast, simple set and crackerjack sound design combine in CLOSET LAND to create an intimate journey into nightmare.

The basic plot of CLOSET LAND is about the extended interrogation of The Woman (Victoria Rabitcheff) by The Man (Wayne Stribling Jr.) in a dark, seemingly subterranean place that may or may not be a government facility. The Woman is identified as an author of children’s books, but her latest unpublished manuscript (for a book called “Closet Land”) has brought her to the fearsome attention of the powers that be. Now they want to know: Why is she putting propaganda in her books to indoctrinate children against the government? The more she denies the charges, the more they seek to break her.

The one-act play is 80 minutes long, but it feels more like 8 minutes. Stribling is uncannily convincing with his multifaceted Man, while Rabitcheff is deeply affecting. She spends a great deal of CLOSET LAND wearing very little clothing, and your identification with her is so strong that it provokes intense discomfort at her vulnerability and violation. The actress is an attractive woman, but you’ll wish for her to regain her dignity at every turn.

The question is, is any of this really happening? The play is deliberately self-contradictory, like an interrogator attempting to throw a prisoner psychologically off balance. We gradually join the Woman in her disorientation, not knowing right from left or what month or day it may be. The only constants are the tricks and torments played on her by the Man, and the questions he asks and confessions he demands.

There is every reason to believe that The Woman is actually trapped only in the prison of her own mind, shaped by her childhood and the terrors of her past. The parallels between the Woman’s plight and the terrors of childhood are clear, and these in turn run parallel to the way many governments abuse their citizens. Do we avoid responsibility for our own crimes? Do we ignore the wrongs done by others…or to them? In some ways, CLOSET LAND challenges us with the idea that if you seek to exorcise your demons, your demons fight back.

Director John McCormick works deftly with the cast and script to bring out all the implications of the story, which in turn depend directly on the nature of the two characters. The producers describe the show as having much in common with Grand Guignol, and it does, but this is a Grand Guignol in which more than flesh bleeds. The characters’ minds and souls bleed as well.

For a riveting evening of provocative intellectual horror, visit CLOSET LAND with the Visceral Company.

CLOSET LAND will play on Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. from June 17 through July 23, 2011, at NoHo Stages, 4934 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA. Visit the Visceral Company at www.thevisceralcompany.com.

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A tense scene from CLOSET LAND.