Dallas — A young woman walks between a double row of folding chairs facing each other at Deep Vellum Books, as the audience of 16 people and a dog watch the opening moments of House Party Theatre’s mirror: as it were the moon, directed by Sarah Lacy Hamilton.
Dressed in back jeans and T-shirt, she lays down at the store’s closed entrance door for a few moments, eyes closed and breathing lightly. Then she rises, opens her eyes and asks in a dazed voice, “Where am I? How did I get here?”
The character, played with mix of touching anxiety and comic curiosity by Dallas singer and performer Sammy Rat Rios, “got there” via the play written by Stephen Gardner, a local playwright and Southern Methodist University alum.
The conceit of the 70-minute play is that the character is questioning the playwright—or whatever muse guides him—about the reason for her existence. Not a new idea in prose, poetry or drama, the notion that characters address their maker is akin to religious people speaking to their creator.
Right away, the young woman figures out she is in a play, as in “all the world’s a stage.” She waxes on and on about how hard her life is, and how difficult she finds it to get her bearings.
She wrangles with whether to stay in the game. “I can find a million ways to die. I can’t think of a single way to live. I think about killing myself every day.” This desperate tone rises and falls so many times, it loses force. The character is just talking, after all.
Rios is fun to watch. Slat thin, her red hair floating around her sharply angled face and large, expressive eyes, she is a compelling presence. She walks up and down between the chairs, asking questions about her “sociological, technical, binary existence.” From time to time, she asks an audience member to “borrow” the small mirror placed in each seat before the show. “The mirror is an object of the mind,” she declaims, and goes on in a pseudo-poetic discourse about what is the reflection, and what is the reality of the image she stares at.
The script is most fun when it allows the character to stop rattling off clichés about the nature of how we distinguish between truth and untruth, and allows her to complain about everyday things. In the midst of a discourse on such esoteric, Rios suddenly stops. She makes eye contact with an audience member, shrugs helplessly and declares, “I care about things like pantry space.”
When the secondary character, a female yogi played with humorless calm by Lx Werle, appears to utter some Zen maxims, like “Truth rests between the things we call truth,” Rios looks perplexed. “I can’t pay the bills with this,” she says. Later, she looks hard at the Zen master, sitting mutely and making origami swans. ”I don’t have time for all this mystic shit; I've been in theater all my life,” she says, in a rare ironic moment during a mostly hand-wringing, woe-is-me evening.
The show ends much as it began, with the confounded, spent young woman wondering how she got there. She got to the end of the show. That alone proves Rios is a real trooper and a talent to watch—and Deep Velum Books is a clean and well-lighted venue for such performances.