A play that challenges you to meet it on its own terms can be a thing of beauty or a vexation akin to root-canal work. The Satori Group’s reWilding is that kind of experience. Despite its bucolic setting, Martyna Majok’s play has the loftiest of ambitions, intending to provoke as well as entertain. This is not an adventure for those who demand the comforts of relatable characters or a narrative roadmap that clearly signals where the playwright is leading her flock or what it will all mean when the curtain comes down.
It would be simple enough to describe reWilding as a new play (pieces of which were performed several years ago in a workshop at Yale) that describes what happens when random strangers drift together in a forest. There they embark on a social experiment based on rejecting the tenets of the world they’ve left. That’s what reWilding is, and that’s all it is. And yet it’s so much more.
For one thing, Satori has transformed its new space in the former INS Building into a 360-degree environment in which the audience is strategically placed so as to be eavesdropping voyeurs or participants in the events around them. There’s food sharing (veggie soup and bread were served soup-kitchen style), and a cooler of PBR was offered at intermission to anyone who cared to partake. The floor is a loamy mass of dirt and soft moss, the ceiling invisible for the canopy of stage trees and ropy moss augmented by stitched-together sheets and repurposed detritus from the world left behind.
It’s an instantly entrancing place, reminiscent in a strange way of the universe Peter Jackson created in his Lord of the Rings movies. Not that this is any idyllic fairytale landscape; rather, it’s the kind of fully realized alternate reality that, even when the plot lags, is simply an intoxicating place to spend time. The scenic design (by Clare Strasser and Montana Tippett) combines with Marnie Cumings’ lights and a total-immersion soundscape by Keith White (of This Bitch Don’t Fall Off) to abduct viewers from a play in downtown Seattle to a place where social mores are tipped sideways, relationships are fluid, trust lasts only from one small agreement to the next, and anything could happen.
Squatters come and go, and if anything resembles a plot here, it’s seeing how newcomers behave when Agnes (Greta Wilson) introduces Edith (LoraBeth Barr) into the enclave. Very quickly, Edith learns how hard it is to make friends (the process makes the Seattle Freeze seem like a family Thanksgiving) and how temporary and fragile those alliances can be. Despite a mutual agreement that no one is to speak in past tense and all that matters is what happens in the encampment, bizarre and nightmarish stories of the characters’ histories tumble out—including disappearing children, Ferris wheels set ablaze, and a series of psychosexual fumblings among the residents.
On a continuum of dystopias, you’d fix this place somewhere between a Grapes of Wrath migrant camp, a struggling commune from the Woodstock era, and the militant-separatist entrenchment at Ruby Ridge. Majok’s world seduces because she won’t let imagination drag her text too far from what’s possible. The result is a twilight realm far creepier than anything you’d find in Stephenie Meyer’s fictive Forks or David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. While not reality, reWilding is nonetheless recognizable.
Ultimately, the play wants to ask how you’d fit into this New Forest Order. What if you woke up one morning and decided that instead of going to work, you’d ditch the freeway for a dirt road and drive until you couldn’t go any farther—just to see what was there? Who would you be? What name would you choose? Whom would you meet—idealists searching for a better way to enact their vision of humanity, or sociopaths with mayhem on their minds?
It’s clear that director Caitlin Sullivan knows how to stage a scene for maximum dramatic effect, and her cast is ferociously talented, but her reluctance to stifle creativity leaves too many loose ends and too little focus (due either to Majok’s text or to the many Satori workshoppers who helped reshape it). What’s left is a mesmerizing, elliptical presentation of a world that seems to exist simultaneously as a real place and in a parallel universe. reWilding succeeds in taking you someplace special and introducing a magical array of characters. It’s inconclusive, perhaps willfully so, but what an amazing trip. E
rewilding The Satori Lab at Inscape, 815 Seattle Blvd. S., satori-group.com. $10–$15. 8 p.m. Fri.–Sun. Ends March 17.