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Art Imitates Life in Comic-Centric 'Stranger Things'

Doug Sutherland and Katharine Noon in 'Stranger Things' (photo by Jose Diaz).
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Under the direction of Ronnie Clark, Ghost Road Company'sexperimental play Stranger Things brings a purgatorial graphic novel to life through a stark pencil-sketch landscape, multimedia effects, and strong performances. Impressionist music, steely drawings, and austere characters transform grim abstractions into a conceptual drama where the art itself slowly siphons off individuals members of a creepy family. The collaboratively written work blurs reality and dimensions through themes of guilt, lingering disappointment, secrecy, and betrayal.

The plot of Stranger Things twists to eventually reveal art as a seemingly operative entity in its own right, but Christel Joy Johnson's performance drives the suspense and tone of the play. As the embittered Helga, Johnson is calculating, disturbing, and chillingly direct. Katharine Noon brings semblance and grace to the play in the difficult role of a physically and spiritually defeated mother. Doug Sutherland plays graphic novelist Johan with ethereal undertones and compassion. Finally, Brian Weir rounds out the cast as the most realistic and conventionally moral role, Matt. Weir skillfully and naturally manipulates Matt, bringing the entire play and his character through a major plot transition.

Clark's direction of Stranger Things is precise, effective, and brimming with beautiful aesthetic details: timing is used to imply page turns; color differentiates realms; and lighting is used to convey warmth and apathy. The entire set is ingeniously made of old shipping pallets and could easily hold its own as a gallery installation, but the Maureen Weiss design lends tremendously to the barren, comic-like atmosphere of the play.

Stranger Things is playing at Atwater Village Theatre through September 25, 2011. Tickets are available online.