By Vincent Delaney
A West Coast Premiere
The inaugural show for a new production company is a notable event, but when that company includes names like Peggy Gannon and Brandon Ryan, such a show definitely makes a Seattle theater-goer sit up and take notice. Man Alone Productions presents 3 Screams through February 26th. Written by Seattle playwright Vincent Delaney, the play is an ambitious work that takes on a lot thematically as well as visually.
Michael Oaks as Edvard, Erin Ison as Tulla, and Brandon Ryan as Gunnar play a nuclear family, but they don’t share the stage or exchange dialogue. Their words are directed to Edvard Munch, who painted one of the most iconic works of all time, “The Scream.” This painting has had a remarkable effect upon their lives, and the play deals with how they manage the fallout. Not very well, it seems, because these characters are all cracked to some degree.
Why would this be so? Certainly there is the genetic factor of mental illness, but the show is not as interested in that aspect as the effect of art, great art, on life. Much like how 12 Angry Men is less about the legal system than those caught up in it, 3 Screams is less about the vocal reminders (“Decorum!”) the compulsive baking, and the meds the characters use to hold on to something stable than it is about how art itself could drive them to their extremes.
Edvard dares to declare that “The Scream” is not great art, and his drive is to produce happy, rather than despairing, art. Tulla vows that she loves her husband’s artwork, when he’s sure she hates it. Gunnar is forced to deal with the fact that his brother has become a world renowned artist who paints flowers, of all things. “I feel like an artist, but without one drop of ability,” he says.
What is great art? Who can be a true artist? Is it required that insanity, or at the very least, depression, be comingled with great talent? These are the kinds of questions Delaney takes on. There is a danger of preciousness with a play about art because the playwright himself is an artist and a biased observer. However, in the same way, those in the seats are there to partake in it, so turnabout is fair play.
This is a play that must teach the viewer how to watch it. A full-length show comprised of three massive monologues (and yes, three screams), in which the characters address a long-dead artist is something different. The middle monologue, Tulla’s, is the most difficult. It is less plot driven than the first, and the unreliable narrator makes for question marks in the mind. Tulla is also the most horrific. That said, some plays are fast-food—you know exactly what you’re going to get because it’s the same everywhere. This production is not fast-food theater.
But neither is it relentlessly highbrow or somber. It is often hilariously funny. Brandon Ryan, with a remarkable ease on stage and unique line delivery was a delight to watch. He doesn’t do it alone, however. His performance benefitted from all the groundwork laid by Oak and Ison. Well produced, with effective sets and sound, this new play is the kind that might even benefit from a second viewing. There’s a lot to turn over in the mind, which is what we would hope to gain from art.