The late Leonard Cohen’s deep voice greets viewers of the theatre department’s performance of Caryl Churchill’s The Skriker with a pessimistic plea: “Give me back the Berlin wall / Give me Stalin and Saint Paul / I’ve seen the future brother / It is murder.”
The stage orientation of The Skriker, directed by Kameron Steele, is a central, rotating circle. A row of people completely engrossed with their cell phones occupies the stage. A single spirit (William Ouweleen ’19) slinks onto the stage. He sniffs around in animalistic fashion, moving around the row of people who take no notice of him. Then, one by one, they depart the stage, leaving only the lonely spirit. This fundamental disconnection is at the heart of the play. A horror play depicting the Skriker’s vengeful desire to steal the children of teenage mothers Lily and Josie (Fatima Anaza ’19 and Evelyn Mahon ’18, respectively), The Skriker emphasizes how, in an increasingly industrialized, mechanized, technologized and digitalized society, we have become disassociated from the natural world and the larger ramifications of our actions on our environment.
The Skriker stage designer John Rodriguez ’18 creates a nightmarish and disjointed atmosphere. With bleachers placed on all four sides of the claustrophobic room, the space seems to allude to a sports arena. Above the stands and slightly back is a balcony that runs around all four walls, covered with translucent panels that the characters rise over so that, at one point or another, a scene will occur outside of the view of some audience members. Spirits from the fairy world appear and disappear from the space, whether in the balcony or around the circular stage, reminding the audience of their natural presence and the atmosphere of magical realism within the world of The Skriker. Viewers are simultaneously positioned as the passive observers of a spectacle and as integrated participants within the universe of the play.
The stage design of The Skriker emphasizes the inherent anxiety in a world evolving past knowledge and into a state of natural entropy. In spite of the set’s tight spatial enclosure, creatures materialize out of cracks and crevices without introduction and then disappear just as inexplicably. This sensation is reiterated by the play’s visceral sound. Rather than employing music, Sound Designer Marc Appart uses various creaks, voices and sound densities to evoke a location and immerse the audience within the setting.
The Skriker fairy first appears to us as four peole, played by Caroline Fairweather ’20, Miranda Hanson ’17, Mia Georgina Hull ’17 and Molly Knoedler ’18, who are costumed identically. One figure stands in the center of the stage, delivering a monologue, as the other three incarnations move around her in a gymnastic, rhythmic dance.
When the Skriker speaks in the form of a spirit, she speaks in a fascinating syntax of surreal word association and fairytale rhyme that allows Churchill to evoke allegorical underpinnings despite the linguistic incoherency. Revealing the changing relationship between humans and spirits, the Skriker laments the death of a time when humans respected and aimed to coexist with the natural world, and modern subjugation and contamination of the environment:
“They used to leave cream in a sorcerer’s apprentice. Gave the brownie a pair of trousers to wear have you gone? Now they hate us and hurt hurtle faster and master. They poison me in my rivers of blood poisoning makes my arm swelter. Can’t get them out of our head strong.”
A stand-in for Mother Nature, the Skriker’s desire to steal Josie’s and Lily’s children has deeper implications for present society — humanity’s environmental harms will come back to haunt it by taking away the future of its children.
This idea of the poisoned relationship between the natural world and human world appears throughout the play. The Skriker fairy pursues Jodie and Lily, taking on different forms as a businessman, an old lady, a little girl and a woman at the bar. At the bar, the Skriker asks Lily how the TV works. Lily does not give a satisfactory answer, and the Skriker angrily asks her if she knows nothing about flying, massive explosions or poisons. “You people are killing me, do you know that? … I hope that satisfies you to know I am in pain,” she says, abandoning her fragmented fairy babble. In response, Lily asks, “Are you ill? Can I help?” This is one of the most transparent scenes within the play. Lily’s inability to articulate the mechanics of airplanes and television, two pieces of technology ubiquitous to modern life, speaks to the disconnection between humans and the natural logic of the universe around them, and her ignorance of the Skriker’s suffering suggests a more sinister type of disconnection in which people have become emotionally and intellectually disassociated from the destructive ramifications of mechanization and industrialization.
At the end of the play, Lily finally succumbs to the Skriker, who then reassumes her form from the beginning of the play, and the set transforms into an image of the future. The room goes black. A single candle illuminates Lily and two figures in cloaks who appear to be her descendants. Their actions are narrated by the Skriker, and then mimed by the characters, framing the end of the play with fatalistic, divinatory condemnation. As the Skriker narrates, “So Lily bit off more than she could choose. And she was dustbin,” the two figures offer Lily food and the room goes black before she performs a fatal act of communion. Ending on this bleak image, the production leaves viewers with a terrifying prophecy of the future where humanity’s carelessness is paid back in full.