Chilling World Premiere "Sharon" Runs Through July 2 at Cygnet Theatre
by Cassiopeia Guthrie, June 26, 2023
Playwright Keiko Green’s inclusion of a micro-expressions reference in the script is insightful (and perhaps prescient) considering the performance of Rafael Goldstein who plays lead Jake is Cygnet’s newest drama, Sharon.
A chilling examination of mental health, the well acted and directed play, helmed by Rob Lufty, takes place in Jake’s cluttered apartment. The character, who is seen painting a wall green during the open house prior to curtain, arrives home each day from his grocery store job to have dinner with his mother, Sharon (DeAnna Driscoll), a woman who at first appears to be a wholesome, nostalgic television trope, but who in fact has secrets and unanswered questions.
As the plot unfolds, we witness the development of their relationship, the moments in which Jake first meets girlfriend Tina (played in a Hitchcockian move by the playwright), and his interactions with both a local banker (MJ Sieber) and a woman who works for the state health and safety division (Kat Peña)... as well as how all of these characters somehow end up in a single room together.
Goldstein’s performance is stunningly nuanced in the lead role. The character presumably struggles with his mental health but there is an utter lack of caricature in the portrayal. Rather, Goldstein employs subtle hand gestures, vacant facial expressions, and tense body language to communicate his character’s shifting emotional state, making his later scenes (marked by near-violent aggression and smoking) even more jarring than they would have been. The result of this performance is a general feeling of being unsafe in his presence, and I must commend both the actor and his director for the way in which this mood is affected.
Opposite Goldstein is Driscoll, playing woman of the house (or is she?), Sharon. Driscoll’s multiple personas (you’ll have to see the show to understand) are wholeheartedly believable despite her initial cliche appearance, and she handles the physical shifts with a cool directness.
In a far less subtle portrayal, MJ Sieber plays banker and paramour Gregg. He is larger than life, awkward, and hilarious. I loved his choices throughout the production, but there was one particular moment - a sneeze in the second act - that had me cackling out loud. Sieber’s command of his more physical comedic role and actor’s instincts are strong.
Another highlight of the production was the way that the stunning set, lighting, sounds, and special effects intersect, creating an atmosphere that lends itself to the story. This is a testament to the design team, which includes: Bryan Ealey (lighting), Alyssa Kane (properties), Yi-Chien Lee (scenic), Steven Leffue (sound), and McKenna Perry (assistant scenic), as well as the work of stage manager Dean Remington and assistant Julia Miranda Smith. Costumes for this production were designed by Zoë Trautmann, and the production team includes assistant director Isabel Rodriguez.
Following her world premiere of Exotic Deadly: Or, the MSG Play at The Old Globe earlier this year, Sharon marks a darker turn for the playwright but one that is deeply interesting, if disturbing. Think wall-licking, barely-restrained aggression, and just general heebie jeebies disturbing.
Expect that Sharon will come at you with dark humor. If that’s your thing, or if you are in it for a smartly acted, well written show, make a trip down to Old Town before this Cygnet offering closes July 2.