Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Ensemble Studio Theatre at Atwater Village Theatre
Through November 5
Schaeffer Nelson’s Mice is a strange little play in which a man in a mouse costume kidnaps two pastors’ wives and holds them prisoner in his basement. It’s a creepy story and not for everyone.
The play opens in the near-dark. Two figures squatting on the floor can be perceived in the dim light. They are Grace (Heather Robinson) and Ayushi (Sharmila Devar). Both are tethered by their hands and feet to poles. Ayushi has been a captive for a while, and has seen other women come and go, but Grace has just been brought in and is, understandably, hysterical. Ayushi attempts to talk her out of her panic and direct her toward a plan for their escape. Although Grace gathers enough of her wits to cooperate, she’s ultimately physically overpowered by the Mouseman (Kevin Comartin), and the women’s ordeal, with its intimations of cannibalism, proceeds apace.
It turns out that the Mouseman may be schizophrenic. He reveals to the women that he sees himself as the servant of “The Suit” — that is, the mouse costume. He’s decided that one of them will succeed him in wearing it — he’s ready to retire — and poses to each a series of questions to determine their suitability (no pun intended). Some of his queries relate to their religious faith, while others, such as whether they have nightmares or have spent time alone, are less doctrinally germane.
Press notes tell us that the playwright comes from an evangelical background and that two of his preoccupations are theology and horror. In a quote, he indicates his wish to portray women in the ministry as potentially capable of backbone and courage, rather than as they are more commonly depicted, as repressed or submissive people.
But Mice, short on internal logic and intellectual heft, never gets past its callow fantastical plot, and is humorless besides. The Mouseman hasn’t much of a personality (it’s hard to be expressive in a head-to-toe rodent getup), and while his motivations are eventually revealed, they seem arbitrary and unconvincing. Under Roderick Menzies’s direction, the performances are also. This is the sort of material you might get away with if you camped it up, but it appears we are meant to take it seriously.
Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA at the Atwater Village Theatre Complex, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.; through November 5. ensemblestudiotheatrela.org. Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.