- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

These aren’t your garden-variety fairies. The mythical creatures in “The Skriker,” English playwright Caryl Churchill’s cautionary fable, are not wee pixies with gossamer wings and tinkly laughs. They are grubby, primal sprites that look like they just crawled out from under some tree bark.

Not only light years away from Queen Mab and Titania, these needy, fearsome fairies — as startlingly rendered by costume designer Pei Lee in Forum Theatre and Dance’s visually stunning production — resemble feverish images from Francis Bacon paintings.

Among the nightmarish creations preying on human beings are a horned entity called Johnny Squarefoot (Cliff Williams III) and a gremlin that goes by the fanciful name of Rawheadandbloodybones (Dan VanHoozer).

The most unsettling mad fairy of them all is the Skriker (Nanna Ingvarsson), a shape-shifter who can be charming or wheedling, depending on her whims. In Miss Churchill’s play, which combines British fairy tale characters loose in modern London with a stern social message about the stewardship of the Earth, the Skriker haunts two young women and desires to snatch away their babies.

She’s too late for Josie (Katie Atkinson), raw-nerved and unhinged, who is in a mental hospital for killing her 10-day-old child. So the Skriker sets her sights on the pregnant Lily (Lindsay Haynes), a kind and docile soul who is alarmed by the Skriker’s various guises but enchanted by her ability to grant wishes.

She resists the Skriker’s invitation to visit fairyland, but Josie succumbs and lives an entire lifetime — including raising wood-sprite children — in an instant. Reassured by Josie’s experience, Lily follows the Skriker to the mythical underworld and, in a flash, centuries have elapsed. Lily’s baby is long dead, and her progeny are hideously deformed due to environmental toxins. The fairies are poised to rule the Earth once again, trying to salvage what human beings have ruined.

Miss Churchill’s 1994 play is notoriously difficult to stage, because in order to understand what is going on you either have to read it beforehand or be really well-versed in the fairy kingdom. The Forum’s Web site (www.forumtd.org) offers audio folk tales upon which some of Miss Churchill’s characters are based, and it is advisable to listen to some of them before attending a performance.

“The Skriker” also features Miss Churchill’s rhyming wordplay, where words build upon one another to make a peculiar logic and incantory magic out of the nonsensical. The character of the Skriker gets most of this surreal, dense dialogue, and Miss Ingvarsson successfully mines its humor and poetry.

With her witchy long hair and dirty gown, Miss Ingvarsson is an unlikely lure, but her commanding and unpredictable performance allows you to see how Josie and Lily could be drawn in. Miss Haynes is luminous as the gentle follower Lily, while Miss Atkinson lays it on thick as the troubled Josie.

Although imaginatively staged by director Kathleen Ackerley, the Forum’s production of this esoteric work relies too much on striking imagery and hypnotic movement that are sometimes entrancing and other times, arty and hollow. The eye is sated, but unless you are already familiar with the play, its warning about global warming and impending environmental disaster flies completely over your head.

***

WHAT: “The Skriker” by Caryl Churchill

WHERE: Forum Theater and Dance at the Warehouse Theater, 1021 Seventh St., NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Dec. 23.

TICKETS: $12 to $18

PHONE: 800/494-TIXS

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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