Mercury Players Theatre recently got a boost from Saturday Night Live alum Nora Dunn, who performed her one-woman show Mythical Proportions the weekend of May 13 as a benefit for the company. Reportedly she was impressed after taking in Mercury's production of The Last Supper by her friend, playwright Dan Rosen, earlier this year. And Mercury can be impressive. However, their latest production, Peep, might be trying too hard to be quirky and provocative.
Act one suffers because things seem a bit belabored. Act two is more dynamic, and director Sadie Yi has made the interesting choice of shifting the actors into different roles. I thought this might be too gimmicky, but it works, and everyone in the cast does better in the later roles.
Local playwright Douglas Holtz explores the genesis of an oddly symbiotic relationship between two young roommates, Billy and Summer, and then the fallout of 25 years of lies and questions as we witness the near-implosion of a family. Billy, a sweet and nervous young man, suffers from haphephobia, a condition which means human touch makes him literally ill. When vivacious Summer moves in and the two develop tenuous feelings for each other, Billy's voyeurism and her willingness to accommodate him make for several sexy and funny moments.
I enjoy Molly Shulman, who first appears as Summer, a daughter of hippies who craves some stability after a life spent at communes and Dead shows. She comes on strong and pushes her way into Billy's life. Shulman is particularly funny when she positions herself on the couch in poses she hopes are casually sexy. Later, when she turns to Billy's dad for help, she nervously picks at the ruffle on her peasant skirt and conveys an endearing concern. In act two she is a sullen, goth teen, popping pills and spewing snark. In both characters it is clear that Shulman is taking risks confidently.
As Billy, Jared Sigler plays an awkward character a bit too awkwardly, but when Summer tries to give him physical affection, he does strike the right note of revulsion and anticipation. He is much more believable later as Casey, a college student with secrets of his own.
Cassi Grey and Dean Nett first play Billy's parents, and then they capably take on the roles of the middle-aged Summer and Billy, who have clearly made things work for themselves over the years. Grey is appropriately overbearing and snide in the first act, as Billy's mom, but she really flourishes later as warmhearted Summer. She gets the best line of the night as she describes the traumatic childhood event that scarred Billy for life. I won't give away the line, which alone might be worth your $10.
Holtz provides astute observations on kinks, fetishes and family dynamics, but perhaps he could be more efficient in getting those messages across. True, I always appreciate a Squeaky Fromme name-check, or a Legend of Zelda reference.
The set is cleverly done. It conveys the idea of rooms in an apartment while letting us take in the action as it's played out, especially a Peeping Tom scenario between bedrooms. Summer's costumes convincingly reflect late 1980s styles, but for some reason, Billy's mom wears a very dated ladies-who-lunch suit and hat, and by dated I mean 1950s, not 1980s. Peculiar.