Mythical, Magical, and Macabre: WOMAN AND SCARECROW at PICT Classic Theatre
By Mike Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
On the preview performance of July 10th:
The end is the beginning in Marina Carr’s “Woman and Scarecrow,” as an unnamed woman (Nike Doukas known simply as Woman) lay dying. The only companion on her journey to the other realm is Scarecrow (Karen Baum), a creature who is invisible to the Woman’s unfaithful husband, Him (James FitzGerald) or her hardened Auntie Ah (Sharon Brady).
The Woman and Scarecrow ruminate, recriminate and reflect on life as the final hours pass. Who or what is the Scarecrow is a mystifying question. The audience never gets a definitive answer. She’s both guardian angel and devil’s advocate. Perhaps she’s merely a morphine induced illusion. It seems most likely that the Scarecrow is the Inner Critic, that nagging voice that pushes you down while begging you to be better.
Woman’s reflection of her life is not a sentimental journey, but an Ulyssean one, primarily set inside her drug-addled brain.
The Scarecrow hasn’t come to comfort the Woman on her final voyage. She reminds her that death is around the corner, or, more precisely, inside the bureau, hiding among the high heels, sneakers and alligator boots. Scarecrow attacks her with the revelation. She spews out lines like, “He’s waiting in the wardrobe. Can’t you hear him sucking his oily wings?”
Scarecrow glares at the husband and aunt whenever they appear, partially to defend the Woman as the husband and aunt spit venomous barbs at each other like Dilophosauruses of the early Jurassic.
The characters are locked into their fates like the metal harnesses on the Steel Phantom, taking us on a wild verbal roller coaster ride, careening inevitably to its sudden, abrupt ending. It’s a hell of a ride; chugging up steep metaphors and flying down into dark tunnels of philosophy.
There’s a lot going on. The characters pluck ideas from metaphysical trees, polish them up and bite into them; love, hate, life, death, marriage, infidelity, lust and greed.
Deathbed pronouncements that claim “Dying is easy, comedy is hard,” run contrary to Carr’s “Woman and Scarecrow.” The playwright proves that dying is hard and comedy is easy. There are more laughs in the end-of-life play than you would imagine as the Woman rails against the end.
Baum immerses herself in the character. The perky, lovable redhead disappears into the role, becoming an ethereal, unforgiving creature, who shoots (metaphorical) silver daggers from her white orbs of her eyes.
Doukas is magnificent. She runs through a gamut of emotion in every scene, in every sentence. She is a dervish whirling through the Kubler-Ross stages of death and dying. It’s a joy to watch Doukas battle the life, the afterlife, and her own inner demons. Outside of pornography, you’ll never see a more energetic performance by a woman who never rises from her bed.
For a talky play that is set in the bedroom of a dying woman, there is energy, movement and vitality. Credit goes to Carr and director Alan Stanford, who seem to be breathing the same rarefied air.
Brady offers some much-needed comic relief, even while doling out vicious bon mots. FitzGerald is a talented actor with nary a false note, but this is clearly “The Doukas and Baum Show.” They are mesmerizing together.
The play is not for the faint of heart, but it is for anyone who likes dense dialogue, poetry and philosophy.
Carr reminds us that through the brutality and finality of death, only love matters. We’re with her and her characters till the end.