“Rahhh! Euuugh! Aghh! Nooooo!” Fifteen minutes before showtime, alarming shrieks and cries ring out of the Walsh Black Box Theater.
Whether this is some bizarre pre-show ritual, or last-minute practice for one of the scenes (after all, That Face is a modern-day take on Oedipus) remains to be seen, although it does make the wait in the lobby considerably more entertaining.
As it turns out, this disturbing series of screams are a fitting prelude for what would come in the actual performance. That Face is, in a word, intense. With the audience only a few feet away from the action, the show is in-your-face to the point of actual discomfort.
“You know when you’re at a friend’s house, and their parents are fighting right in front of you, and you’re like ‘wow, this is really awkward?’” Audrey Imbs (COL ’16), the stage manager said. “That’s pretty much what we were going for.”
That Face, indeed, delivers on the promise of close-up familial angst and unhealthy relationships. At the heart of the play lies a twisted, toxic, incomprehensible, and yet somehow endearing bond between a mother, Martha, and her son, Henry. The latter, played by Nick Phalen (SFS ‘16), is the steady voice of reason throughout the play—patient with his mother, stern with his sister, and furious with his father for his continual absence.
Henry’s sister, Mia, played by Natalie Caceres (MSB ‘16), is convincing as the spoiled, snarky private-schooled girl who gets caught up in a prank gone horribly wrong. Izzy, played by Salma Khamis (SFS ‘17), her co-conspirator in the prank, is deliciously sinister; one moment taking savage delight in “initiating” (torturing) a fellow schoolmate, the next, seducing Henry into her bedroom with vile delight.
It is Martha, however, played by Michaela Farrell (COL ‘18), who absolutely steals the show. With her hair in a perpetually disheveled bun and wearing only a rumpled nightgown, she could not fit more perfectly into the role of the indisposed, addicted mother: hysterical and whiny at the thought of Henry leaving her, pacing around the room looking desperately for her jewels, giggling insanely under the covers as she makes nonsensical phone calls and smokes a cigarette.
“I’ve never seen someone with so much natural instinct in my life,” Imbs said of Farrell’s performance. The show’s director, Alice Neave (COL ’16) agreed wholeheartedly, recalling the first time she saw Farrell audition. “She absolutely blew us away,” Neave said. “She’s just a freshman, but she just had such amazing instincts. And she’s only grown since then.” Without a doubt, it is the bold authenticity and risk-taking cast, combined with beautifully-written characters, that takes That Face to a level not often seen in student productions.
“The relationships are just so real, there’s this rawness to it,” Neave observed. “And it pertains to issues that are very common … one of them being the destructive nature of addiction and the issue of mental health. And that’s something we don’t often talk about at Georgetown. I’m hoping that it makes people think, or maybe even start a dialogue.”
Walking out of the theater, there certainly is a lot to feel: relief, amazement, curiosity, exhaustion. That Face is an intense performance, and takes almost as much to emotional energy to watch as it must take to perform.Yet, as Imbs noted, the storyline is ultimately comforting in some ways, because “it’s really a play about family—something everyone can relate to.”
She continued, “At any rate, if you feel like your family’s dysfunctional, you’ll feel a little better after watching this.”
Walsh Black Box Theatre
Feb. 12, 8 p.m.
Feb. 14, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.