Afraid of the ‘Dark’? 

Carpenter Square’s production of “Dark Matters” is a challenging play — both to stage and to process.

Set in the Virginia mountains, the aptly titled work opens with milkman Michael Cleary distraught over the disappearance of his wife, Bridget, a school librarian obsessed with aliens and UFOs.

Michael and his son, Jeremy, struggle through personal issues while trying to help Sheriff Egan find Bridget. As the story progresses, secrets are revealed that bring characters’ pasts and motivations into question.

Without warning, Bridget returns at the end of Act 1, claiming to have been abducted by aliens. Act 2 continues to explore the web of conflicting truths the characters cling to without ever definitively showing its hand. The ambiguous ending will drive some people crazy, especially after taking such an intense journey to get there.

The production’s tone, which has the unfortunate effect of alienating the audience early, may have been part of playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s intent. (Given its tenor, it’s amusing to note Aguirre-Sacasa is now a producer on TV’s “Glee.”) That tone is reflected in the performances, under the direction of Oklahoma City University theater professor Courtney DiBello.

Brent Weber comes on strong as the frustrated Michael. His barely contained rage burns though the cracks of his facade like a psychotic human/Balrog hybrid. Genuinely threatening and unpleasant to observe, he certainly accomplished something, but at the expense of the family man part of Michael’s personality until Act 2. His intense performance, coupled with Aguirre-Sacasa’s stylized version of natural dialogue (lots of broken sentences), results in some Shatnerian line readings.

Mike Newton manages to let some air back into the room with his portrayal of the well-meaning Jeremy. Finding the innocence and humor in the sometimes-spastic character, he does excellent work opposite TooToo Cirlot as Bridget, whose sudden appearance almost single-handedly saves the play.

Bubbly, but not stupid, possibly crazy, but focused and loving, Cirlot’s performance is the highlight, bringing out the best in her co-stars. She and Weber share some emotionally devastating scenes.

Doug Carlton turns in a perplexingly semi-fem turn as Sheriff Egan.

While the affectation has some disturbing implications later, its necessity is questionable. He seemed to have trouble with the staccato dialogue, fumbling the occasional line.

“Dark Matters” is recommended for the adventurous who yearn for cutting-edge theater in town.

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