It’s not uncommon for defenders of a poorly reviewed work to say the critics “just don’t get it.” (The “I don’t know what show you saw, but…” construction is a popular corollary.) It’s exceedingly rare, however, for me to find myself thinking, as I’m watching a show, “I’m just not getting this.” That’s the case, though, with Red Tape’s handsome, stylishly designed, mostly well-acted but ultimately impenetrable premiere of Barclay’s play.
William Anderson’s clever trilevel set depicts three small apartments connected by a central staircase. The inhabitants are Ned (Nicholas Combs), a frustrated writer; Salvia (Meghan Reardon, as compelling here as in last spring’s The Love of the Nightingale), who concocts potions and “cures” in her flat; and Rodney (Robert L. Oakes), who’s apparently spying on Salvia for a shadowy agency.
Rodney’s not the only eavesdropper, however. All three tenants spend their time listening in on each other’s business, as does Ms. Craw (Lona Livingston), the puttering busybody landlady. To what end is what’s unclear in Ehre’s noisy, busy production. There are shadowy intimations about torture devices in Salvia’s history; Rodney phones in to superiors at a labyrinthine bureaucracy; Ms. Craw roams the halls with a hammer, banging away at invisible dangers. Barclay, a Northwestern grad now in residence at California’s South Coast Rep, writes some lyrical dialogue in the course of Ned’s attempts to woo Salvia with a story about circus performers and Ms. Craw’s tale of atrocities in her unnamed homeland. But Obscura’s intent remains obscure.