Ghastly, unearthly sounds shattering the psyche of a struggling New York artist provides the dramatic fuel for Cory Finley’s eerie yet bewildering 2015 Off-Off-Broadway comedic thriller The Feast, currently receiving an excellently chilling local premiere by Playground Theatre in the new PNC Arts Annex.
Skillfully co-directed with contemporary horror flourishes and brooding intensity by Playground co-founders Jenna Valyn and Christopher Hahn, The Feast, the Playground’s fourth season opener, brings mental health to the forefront as Matt (a credibly shaken and overwhelmed A.J. Breslin) attempts to figure out why he hears something akin to “a dying whale” coming from his toilet. This is a serious concern, but Finley shortchanges the experience by not allowing a fuller picture into Matt’s background, particularly his childhood. The play’s freak-factor would’ve been raised significantly if, perhaps, Little Matt would’ve appeared to share a few scenes and offer a glimpse into what formulated the demons within. But as it stands, firmly in the present, Matt merely spends most of his time at odds with his girlfriend Anna (a resilient, mysterious Rae Buchanan) and encountering various individuals intent on making his emotionally damaged life more topsy-turvy including a frustrated plumber, an indifferent therapist and a close friend connected inside Manhattan’s thriving arts scene (all marvelously embodied with chameleon fluidity by Philip Drennen). Ultimately, Finley leaves many questions unanswered, opting instead for a plot meandering into predictable boyfriend/girlfriend revenge territory complete with an important meal served on the verge of feeling reminiscent of The Beguiled and Phantom Thread.
Nevertheless, Valyn and Hahn, making great use of the Arts Annex’s thrust stage, fill the show with enough genuinely creepy moments to startle the senses, specifically bolstered by outstanding lighting design by Derek Dunavent and composer Skyler McNeely’s original soundscape splendidly blending pulsating suspense with rhapsodic melancholy. There is also an absolute whopper in the final seconds that makes this production totally unique and worthwhile, an apt description of the Playground pedigree.
The Feast continues through Oct. 28 in the PNC Arts Annex, Second and Ludlow Streets, Dayton. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. The play is performed in 65 minutes. Tickets are $15-$20 and can be purchased by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visiting ticketcenterstage.com. Also, some of the various pieces of artwork in the show, which have been created by local artists, will be auctioned in support of Roochute, which “creates conversation about mental health and promotes acts of kindness to the world.” For more information about the auction, visit pgdyt.org/auction. For more information about Playground Theatre, visit theplaygroundtheatre.org.