“Meek” is a Taut, Gripping, Moral Mystery in U.S. Premiere at DENIZEN Theatre
“MEEK,” by Penelope Skinner is getting its American premiere in a terrific, taut production at DENIZEN Theatre, a fantastic black box theatre producing challenging off-beat work in New Paltz. The play is a tense, spare examination of a young woman’s offense against a repressive state.
We learn with every short scene composed of short, clipped sentences that Irene (played by a defiant, vivacious Britany Proia) has been dumped by her boyfriend and she has written an angry song and performed it in a coffee house. The offense against the regime of this unnamed, religious, totalitarian state? The song could be interpreted as offensive and attacking the Holy Spirit.
She is visited by her best friend Anna ( a terrific, zealous performance by Aidan Koehler) and eventually a lawyer who takes on her case, Gudrun (Crystal Tweed powerfully assured and controlled) and through these encounters you tease out all the details not just of the crime and the characters onstage but the new government that has recently taken over and imposed their new draconian order.
Was Irene informed on and by who and what exactly was so offensive in the song? The playwright never plays the song for us and lets our imagination compose the transgressive tune of our dreams. We learn that Irene has reason to be a suspect for a while-dancing, drinking, wearing trousers, hosting an illegal website but what are the official charges against her? Being “irreligious in public,” “spreading a blasphemous message?” Irene denies that she is even a songwriter or the song is her work stressing that she is just a factory worker. Anna offers sanctimonious platitude with a real fire in Koehler’s playing and Tweed counsels appeasement to save her client’s life. Britany Proia, a co-artistic director of DENIZEN, does exemplary work as Irene. She pulls the audience through the knothole charming, exasperating and inspiring us. It is fine work and all the more impressive as she is onstage throughout. When she does eventually exit, her absence is deeply felt. It is a great pleasure to see director Kelly Kitchen’s thoroughly involving and provocative tale with these three fine actresses.
Ms. Kitchens is helped a great deal in telling her story by an inventive lighting design by Ryan E. Finzelber which transforms the empty space with every scene change. Terrific work as well by the costume designer, Christina English which gives the women attractive, exquisitely chosen pieces that define the characters but also speak to the repressive and foreign setting of the play. The audience sits on all four sides of the playing area and the only scenery (also by Finzelber) is a table and chair but they are perfect in their sparseness.
DENIZEN has been producing for almost a year now and has built an impressive list of supporters called Insiders, myself among them, and a terrific schedule of groundbreaking theater, actor talk-backs, panel discussions and pay what you can evenings. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes south of Albany and should be an essential destination to all who are interested in new theater in the Hudson Valley. I’m eagerly looking forward to their next production of “Sender” by Ike Holter, a favorite Chicago playwright.