Hunger & Thirst Theatre's Strangers in the Night_portrait and title_72dpiStrangers on a Train… Perfect Strangers… When a Stranger Calls… A Stranger Among Us… Don’t Talk to Strangers… Love With the Proper Stranger… Dance With a Stranger… Stranger Than Fiction… Beautiful Stranger…

Patricia Lynn as Molly and Patrick T. Horn as Peter in Hunger & Thirst Theatre's Strangers in the Night_photo by Philip Estrera_300dpiConsidering that the dictionary definition of “stranger” is “a person whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar”, the proverbial stranger has always been a subject of fascination throughout music, movies, TV, and theater through the millennia. Hunger and Thirst Theatre’s new production Strangers In the Night features two one-act plays, each of which involve that aforementioned proverbial stranger. The unknown man appears seemingly out of nowhere to, shall we say, shake things up a bit. Other than that, the two chapters of Strangers In the Night couldn’t be more different. Strangers In the Night warms up the audience with a sax-heavy rendition of the eternal classic song of the same name, which will become even more appropriate when the play begins its first segment, named Screwed. Set in modern times, Patricia Lynn’s Screwed, directed by Caitlin Davies, is loosely inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. It’s inspirational antecedents, however, just as clearly include the influential genre of movies known as “film noir”. The style is complete with a tense and moody atmosphere, as well as the general feeling of mystery permeating the setting. The two main characters only reinforce the play’s likely inspirations: We meet Peter (Patrick T. Horn), a (mostly) by-the-books policeman; and Molly (Patricia Lynn), film noir’s prototypical tough woman with an enigmatic persona. The pair meet up at an isolated, possibly haunted lakeside house in Connecticut, where a baffling crime has recently taken place. Revelations soon surface, most of which involving characters we will never get to see. Issues emerge, including suicide, a revealing diary, and one character’s possible mental illness. A macabre crime may have brought this man and woman together, but the situation soon winds down to something of a psychological war dance between the cop and the governess. A great deal of the drama in film noir movies came from the ultimate battle of the sexes, with rigidly drawn gender lines that were typical of the time period. Molly tells Peter, “You don’t look like a man who disobeys orders.” Peter retorts, “You don’t look like a woman who murders a 13 year old boy!” Of course, the story turns out to be more complex than it appears. The answer to our inevitable question “What really happened?” depends on, well… who you believe. Screwed is well-acted with an engaging cast, with Patricia Lynn a particular standout. While this segment owes much of its inspiration from vintage sources, it’s clear that some of the play’s themes have unfortunately transcended generations– most predominantly, the issue of women who tell their story but, sadly, are not believed.Dillon Heape as Man in Hunger & Thirst Theatre's Strangers in the Night_photo by Al Foote III

Dillon Heape as Man and Philip Estrera as Stranger in Hunger & Thirst Theatre's Strangers in the Night_photo by Al Foote IIIPhilip Estrera as Stranger in Hunger & Thirst Theatre's Strangers in the Night_photo by Philip Estrera_300dpiNatalie Hegg as The Other Half in Hunger & Thirst Theatre's Strangers in the Night_photo by Philip Estrera_300dpiUnlike Screwed, Emily Kitchens’ ambitious but challenging Bottling Dreams (Of The Tearful Don’t-Knower), directed by Paul Kite, is a story that could ONLY take place in our modern era. It’s an era when sexual identity/orientation is more fluid; intimacy often only comes in “blips”; and how we humans think, act, and feel is colored by the over-saturation of TV, social media, and trans-generational conglomerates of pop culture: influences which interrupt our so-called “real life”. In Bottling Dreams, this is represented in a creative directorial touch via video screens featuring blaring visuals and a cacophony of brain-penetrating noise. In this story, we meet a burly, hirsute man (Dillon Heape) who is “bottling tears” at an isolated pond for his ill “other half”– who, we learn, cannot make tears of her own. His seclusion is interrupted by another “stranger” (Philip Estrera), a highly animated free spirit dressed in what can only be described as “weekend runway” urban fashion. What follows feels like the equivalent of a mating dance between a porcupine and a playful fox, eventually evolving into a moment of intimacy between the “strange man” and the “stranger”– a moment that’s much harder to define than just a hookup.  Apparently, the unnamed man devoted to his unnamed “other half” aches for companionship, but is apprehensive about getting close– again, a phenomenon which is very common as we see the dawn of 2020. Ultimately, we do meet the play’s third character– the ailing wife (Natalie Hegg) who somehow manages to find her way to the isolated hideaway of these two attractive but very different young men. Similar to the phenomenon of social media living alongside true human connection, the lines of what is “real” and “unreal” seem to blur in Bottling Dreams— even as we see it all happen before our eyes. In an generation where “It’s complicated” has become a legitimate relationship status, the second segment of Strangers In the Night captures that essence of that catchphrase perfectly– perhaps, however, a little too much. We feel the pain of this reluctant triad, but there’s no easy or even semi-easy resolution for any of the characters in Bottling Dreams— which some audience members will find to be more than a bit frustrating.

Jordan Kaplan as Frank in Hunger & Thirst Theatre's Strangers in the Night_photo by Al Foote IIILinking the two stories is the evening’s host, a handsome self-proclaimed stranger named Frank (Jordan Kaplan). At first, he does not reveal much about his identity or motivations. At the play’s conclusion, however, he finally gets to tell his own story. After the audience witnesses two scenarios with touches of both the supernatural and the dreamlike, Frank’s final monologue comes across as the most “real” experience of all: an experience that will be familiar to anyone who finds themselves in the middle of a crowded city like New York, surrounded by scores of other people, and still feel like… well, a stranger.

Hunger and Thirst Theatre’s Strangers In the Night continues through Saturday, October 26th at West End Theatre at Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, 263 W 86th St, New York City.  The cast features Philip Estrera, Dillon Heape, Natalie Hegg, Patrick T. Horn, Jordan Kaplan, Patricia Lynn, and Brandon Vukovic.  The design team includes Wesley Cornwell (lighting design) and Randall Benichak (sound design). The Technical Advisor is Patrick T. Horn. The Production Stage Manager is Heather Olmstead.

Photos by Al Foote III.

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