Rich Dymer, Joseph Parks, Rebecca Fisher,and Taylor Valentine in Mysterious Skin
(Photo © Lois Tema)
Rich Dymer, Joseph Parks, Rebecca Fisher,
and Taylor Valentine in Mysterious Skin
(Photo © Lois Tema)
Brian Lackey was abducted by aliens -- or, at least, that's what he believes. When he was eight years old, he woke up in a crawl space underneath his Kansas home with no memory of the preceding five hours. Prince Gomolvilas's new play Mysterious Skin follows Brian's search to discover the truth behind this incident. Based on Scott Heim's novel of the same title, this complex, intriguing play weaves together themes of loneliness, abuse, sexual desire, and the urgent need to unlock memory.

Heim's novel proceeds chronologically, starting with Brian's account of his mysterious awakening in the crawl space after a Little League game earlier that evening. In Gomolvilas's adaptation, Brian (played by Taylor Valentine) is 18 years old and is looking to solve the secret of his missing past. He finds friendship with Avalyn (Rebecca M. Fisher), who claims to be a victim of multiple alien abductions. A parallel story in both play and novel follows Neil McCormick (Joseph Parks), a young gay hustler who holds the key to solving Brian's dilemma. Details of the characters' pasts emerge, often through quick flashbacks heralded by thunderous sound effects. For the most part, Gomolvilas's breaking apart of the novel's chronological structure works well; the playwright doles out information in a way that heightens the mystery but still provides all the clues for its eventual unraveling.

Director Arturo Catricala paces the first act at a relentless frenzy as the actors declaim their lines and overplay their intentions with a hyperactive abandon. This is especially true of Neil's interactions with his best friend, Wendy (Megan Towle), which seem overly enthusiastic and somewhat jarring. Likewise, Brian and Avalyn's first encounter is marked by a display of nervous awkwardness that lacks subtlety, even if it is appropriate to the situation.

The pace slows in the second act, which allows the cast to delve into the emotional undercurrents flowing between the characters. Parks is particularly mesmerizing, and a speech about Neil's first sexual experience at the age of eight is harrowing for both its revelations of child abuse and the wistfulness and longing with which Neil tells the story. Fisher also excels in a monologue that reveals the depths of Avalyn's loneliness and suggests a much darker truth behind her claims of alien abduction. Valentine's finest scene comes out of his character's first confrontation with Neil, as Brian begs him for help -- a scene that has no equivalent in the novel. The raw, almost painful plea cuts through Neil's indifference and raises the stakes for the play's inevitable conclusion.

Mysterious Skin deals with the question of how strongly past events effect the present. It also forces the audience to consider complicated issues of pre-adolescent sexual desire, the complicity between victim and predator, and the psychological consequences of trauma. Long before the play's conclusion, the audience has a pretty clear idea as to what happened to eight-year-old Brian on that fateful night; but that knowledge doesn't spoil the drama of the situation, and the well paced, superbly acted climactic scene is a revelation.