What would a reunion between former cult members look like? Would it be fun? Would it be nostalgic? Would it be scary? Excavation Theater Company’s The Lost Ones, currently showing as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, plays with this premise. In this fascinating drama, four people are invited for a weekend in the woods by their former “mother” Judith, founder of The Next Wave, a seemingly defunct cult that operated on the premise of free love and isolation from society. Born into The Next Wave, these people are what Judith calls The Lost Ones—which brings to mind Peter Pan’s The Lost Boys—because they were taken as minors during an FBI raid 15 years ago and integrated into society, never to be found again. Now adults, they are trying to make something of their “normal” lives.
Like most cult leaders portrayed in movies and television, Judith seems harmless. She is a very sweet, unassuming older woman, who smiles and listens, and knows exactly what you need to hear. She just so happens to have radical ideas about love and sex and how life should be lived. As portrayed by Susan McBrien, Judith brings to mind a sweet great aunt who might have you over for lunch and give you a set of her pearls rather than a nefarious cult leader set on controlling people’s lives.
Judith’s motives for the weekend are pretty clear from the beginning. She wants to bring The Next Wave back, and she wants The Lost Ones to “reactivate,” cult lingo for re-joining. She uses her new “daughter,” pretty, sweet Alex (Dev Meenagh) to help sway the more stubborn members of the group. Indeed, some are more willing than others to come back to The Next Wave. Soo-Jin (Seimi Kim) for one is ecstatic that Judith has found her and immediately expresses her desire to come back. Her life working in an orphanage in Korea is miserable, and she was happy in The Next Wave. Ryan (John Moller) is engaged to be married in six months and seems to have no desire to come back, but simply wants closure to a time in his life when he actually knew who he was. Siblings Zach (Josh Atkinson) and Sarah (Rachel Lomax) are pretty messed up from their experience in The Next Wave, and are the most resistant to Judith’s charms. Zach is more like a caretaker than a brother to the mentally ill Sarah, and is extremely angry for what Judith did to them. From the beginning, one wonders why they accepted the invitation in the first place.
The weekend takes a turn when Ryan’s fiancée Catherine (Elizabeth Donovan) shows up, all perfect and proper and polite. Also invited by Judith, Catherine has no idea about Ryan’s background, but she has her own demons to battle. She springs up on the group as an outsider, only to discover she has more in common with them than she could have ever imagined. As events unfold, everyone is forced to confront dark secrets from their past.
Part of what makes The Lost Ones so interesting is that it was completely devised by the actors, along with director Evan Greenberg and playwright Reiko Goodwin. According to the director’s note in the program, the actors were not cast based on specific roles but had to create them as they went along. This means they likely had to dig deep into some very uncomfortable places. The entire cast is wonderful, each adding his or her own footprint. Lomax particularly stands out as the troubled, mentally unstable Sarah; her portrayal of mental illness is astute and disturbing. Kim is also brilliant as the warm and kind Soo-Jin, especially as Soo-Jin comes to her own heartbreaking discoveries. The Lost Ones provokes thought and questions about the evils of society, as well as the temptations of a supportive and accepting community. Can one truly live an idyllic life, completely separated from society, without any repercussions? Just ask The Lost Ones.
The Lost Ones continues its run at the Flamboyan Theatre at the Clemente through August 20 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. For more on FringeNYC shows, click here.
Through August 20 at the Flamboyan Theatre at the Clemente.