Craig Wright’s The Unseen represents the completion of a circle for Davie’s Promethean Theatre. The company was born eight years ago with its production of Wright’s Orange Flower Water. After The Unseen closes March 25, Promethean will vanish, transforming from an active company into one more loss in the history of South Florida theater.
Money, not creative passion, is the issue. A small company’s constant need to raise funds can grind its tiny staff down, so that the art gets clouded in worry or compromise. Producing artistic director Deborah L. Sherman and associate artistic director Margaret M. Ledford weren’t willing to let that happen. So with The Unseen, they’re sending Promethean off to the land of defunct theater companies on a thrilling, disturbing, dazzling high.
Wright’s play, first seen at the 2007 Humana Festival of New American plays, takes place in a prison where the inmates are isolated and regularly tortured. The specifics of time and place aren’t spelled out, so this particular hell on earth could be anywhere. Or today, everywhere.
We watch as two beaten, bruised, bloodied prisoners, men who can hear but not see each other, find ways to pass the time. Wallace (Andrew Wind) and Valdez (Antonio Amadeo) talk, reminisce, fantasize, argue and play a never-ending word game, all ways of taking their minds off the mortal danger that regularly visits in the person of their brutal guard, a maniac they call Smash (Alex Alvarez).
Wright explores hope and hopelessness, the effects of unimaginable brutality on both the victim and the torturer, the life-sustaining force of imagination and so much more. The Unseen is a fascinating play that raises more questions than it settles.
Ledford’s direction and the collaborative work of set designer Dan Gelbmann, lighting designer David Radunsky and sound designer Matt Corey keep the audience on edge. The atmosphere in the “prison” is dark and creepy, pierced with sudden, unsettling sounds. The recorded pre-show admonition about turning off cell phones, not taking photos and so on is so threatening that you may never turn your phone back on again.
But what really sells The Unseen is the haunting performances by Wind as a man on the verge of finally breaking, the sweet presence of Amadeo as an optimistic soul who can pluck a world of hope from a tiny sound, and the explosive fury of Alvarez as a psychopath with one of the most horrifying descriptions of violence ever devised by a playwright. Alvarez, last seen locally as the funny gay cousin Julio in GableStage’s The Motherf**ker with the Hat, comes off as utterly disturbing and unhinged in The Unseen. And that, folks, is great acting. Unlike money, that has never been in short supply at Promethean.