DOE is like a repetitive dream that disturbs by wont of its sneaky relationship to reality—whatever that is. This Workhaus Collective world premiere is indeed a starkly weird thing. On opening night, it also brought to mind a driverless car careening toward a cliff in an overheated spy movie—a brick firmly attached to the accelerator.
The action begins in a creepy hotel room, with Leslie Tracy's lighting design frequently suggesting the indistinct nausea that accompanies bad decisions made in the middle of the night. A woman named Jan (who is also sometimes called Jane, played by Tracey Maloney) awakens in shock to find herself next to a semi-naked woman (Annie Enneking). It looks like a standard I-did-what?-after-12-shots-at-the-bar scenario, until the lights go out and we begin again. And then again. What follows is a fractally shattered reality in which scenes shift, conversations recur, and circumstances career with all the apparent randomness of a pair of dice inside a shaken cup.
Maloney is the constant, and eventually we learn that the drama, generally speaking, has to do with her failing relationship with a man and with her desire for Enneking's unnamed character (or what she represents, if you care to view matters more metaphorically). Eventually the blood starts to flow, and one can be forgiven for feeling that one has stepped into an avant-garde stage version of the Wachowski brothers' lesbian-noir film Bound—albeit with superior dialogue and a good deal less inhibition.
Minneapolis/New York playwright Trista Baldwin uses these mini-scenes to dissect feelings of possession, desire, and self-knowledge, and the harrowing fear that follows. Director Hayley Finn's cast latches on to the musical quality of Baldwin's dialogue as it rises, swells, and frequently crashes. (A lights-out, lights-on blink punctuates the action, until it begins to serve as a slo-mo strobe.) Interspersed with confrontations and ravenous declarations of desire are memories of movement, of sinking, of driving—all evoking the disembodied drift of thought.
Casey Grieg portrays husband John as a figure of detachment and confounded frustration, at one point lunging for Maloney with a startling surge of violence. When Maloney and Enneking share the stage, it is with a complicated and fraught sexual energy that also seems to want to end in violence. In this, the work resembles a piece of music that has teased out a particular sonic theme, and then roars with every instrument in search of resolution, however partial.
Baldwin might be writing for a trio rather than a symphony, but her particular dream music is in solid (if excited) hands with this production. The freshly founded Workhaus Collective is dedicated to staging new works by local playwrights, and DOE starts things off with appropriate energy and a spirit of fearlessness. Of course, that high-wire attitude can work both ways: Opening night tended to be more frantic than coherent, coming in a full 15 minutes shorter than the announced time of 75 minutes. If Workhaus had only tutored the Guthrie this spring, we might have escaped with the first two-hour Hamlet in history.