Gale Theatre Company's new devised work manages to feel as cathartic and personal as it does vague and mysterious

Find your light: Mary Catherine as the Hero
Find your light: Mary Catherine as the Hero (Courtesy of Susan Bennett)

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 512/478-5282
Through Nov. 15
Running time: 1 hr.

"Are you from around here? Are you cold? It's always cold in here. Have you ever lived in seasons? It would be nice to live in seasons."

Mary Catherine, billed as the Hero, opens Gale Theatre Company's devised piece Wail with an exchange simultaneously directed to everyone and no one in particular. Her words hang in the air, begging for an acknowledgment that, yes, the warm weather is nice but that seeing the leaves change color or having snow flurries fall on Christmas morning might be a welcome change of pace.

Then, with little more than some mutterings about "cells multiplying," our Hero gets her change. The presumed waiting room of the first scene transforms to a strange commune-type setting featuring just three bare staircases, each with an ensemble member robotically ascending and descending, ascending and descending, never breaking stride. Kimberly Gifford, playing the Prophet, comforts the Hero while ominously suggesting that she get a good night's rest, because the workday will begin earlier than she expects.

And with a jolting horn's blare and a blinding flash of stark light, the workday begins indeed. The Hero and the Prophet join the Witness (Ja'Michael Darnell) and Time (Tim Mateer) in a dance that those of us who have ever worked a nine-to-five know all too well: a strictly regimented, highly choreographed routine of files passing back and forth, and piles of paperwork towering higher and higher as the glimmer that was once in our Hero's eyes – the light – begins to fade. As time wears on, she masters the dance, even adds more complex steps, until eventually both the routine and she fall apart, suggesting her light has been extinguished altogether.

The moments in which the production uses or alludes to light, darkness, and shadows are perhaps its finest. The backdrop, constructed of 15 sets of blinds, underscores this motif beautifully, especially when coupled with Patrick Anthony's striking lighting design. Olivia Jimenez heightens this contrast as the Killer, who appears only as a looming silhouette on the other side of the blinds – the side the Hero is no longer a part of. The Witness teaches her that she possesses an internal light that sets her apart from the others on this new side; she is a firefly emitting light in an otherwise dark world.

Mary Catherine truly is a source of light in this piece, providing a compelling glimpse into coping with loss, all with the aid of a capable ensemble. Though the movement-based segments flow seamlessly in the context of the entire production, various individual bits would benefit from some tightening up. The specific details of the storyline are, at times, hard to nail down: Where exactly is the Hero? What precisely has she lost? Why is there an elaborate food fight, awesomely fun though it looks? Maybe these questions, like those posed in the first scene, simply aren't meant to be answered. Gale Theatre Company has devised an intimate, unique piece that manages to feel as cathartic and personal as it does vague and mysterious.

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Wail, Gale Theatre Company, Mary Catherine, Kimberly Gifford, Ja'Michael Darnell, Tim Mateer, Olivia Jimenez, Patrick Anthony

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