Playwright Erin Courtney's The Service Road, receiving its world premiere from the Adhesive Theater Project at the Voorhees Theatre in Brooklyn, plunges you into a modern-day fairy tale. It's a brief work, running just sixty minutes, but it packs a significant punch, thanks to director Meghan Finn's beautiful, expressionist-inspired staging.
The piece unfolds in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, where despite an impending storm, modeled on the windstorm that hit the borough in 2010, Lia (Kalle Macrides) is preparing to lead her regular bird watching group. Park ranger Frank (Cory Einbinder, playing one of several male roles) wants her to cancel the outing, but she's adamant about heading out as usual. It's not long, though, before a freak storm blows through the park, and in its aftermath, Lia finds herself on a bizarre journey – both literal and surreally metaphorical – through the darkness of her guilt-plagued present and grief-ridden past.
It's a bizarre tale – filled with apparitions of children, wild dogs, and even exploding toilets – that affords Finn and her design team the opportunity to create a marvelously creepy and magical world. There's only one patch of green grass in Mike Riccio's otherwise monochromatic scenic design, which frames the stage with mammoth 2D tree branches protruding from the wings. It's an ominous, almost cavern-like, environment that feels all the more dangerous when coupled with the static-laced video design, (Einbinder also designed the projections) and the bird-call, wind-filled soundscape that's created on the spot by a pair of foleys (Mark Bruckner and Claire Moodey) seen at one side of the stage.
As for the apparitions that appear as Lia maneuvers through the gale-destroyed park, they come to life thanks to ingeniously designed puppets (devised by triple-threat Einbinder and expertly maneuvered by Moodey and Caroline Tamas). A little lost boy is particularly inventive, looking like a cross between Mr. Met and one of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz with a video projection for a face.
There is, however, a downside to the seemingly unending inventiveness of the stagecraft in the production: it only emphasizes the shallowness and sweetly gooey sentimentality of Courtney's play. This becomes particularly true once all of the pieces about Lia's life have fallen into place. The show is further undermined by Macrides' wooden performance, which is made all the more distant by the fact that the actress has been miked. It's a bit like watching someone in crisis through the wrong end of a telescope.
Einbinder delivers more successfully as he plays the men who wander through the park and Lia's life. Not only is he sweetly charming as park ranger Frank, he's appropriately gruff and distant as the teenager who starts off on a tour with Lia. Perhaps his finest work comes when he plays Linus, an elderly man who runs a carousel, which is delightfully represented by an enormous, spinning umbrella bedecked with white Christmas tree lights and tiny tin horses. In this one brief scene, he imbues the character with such ethereal gentility that it seems as if not only Linus, but also Einbinder himself, has appeared from another world.
It's an utterly sublime sequence in which the arts of performance and stagecraft gorgeously connect, plucking your heartstrings and causing your senses to tingle. For the rest of the show, you'll have to settle for the eye-popping and ear-teasing design, but ultimately, that's enough to seduce, making this show more than a little serviceable.