Remember those I Spy books with the photographic picture riddles full of miniatures and myriad objects imaginatively arrayed? There was often a surreal quality to these primarily visual books; a feeling of browsing through the freely associated tokens of someone’s memories which in turn could trigger a whole other stream-of-conscious in the book-holder’s mind. Holiday House: Christmas Bends creates the feeling that one might get were she to open up one of those books after dropping a hit of bad acid.
Indeed, this original Mason Holdings production is an unexpected, harrowing theatrical experience, and there is no hyperbole in calling it here an experience. It is rare that one feels so fully immersed in an authentically dramatic work even before any kind of specific narrative actually kicks in. This is a credit to the highly detailed, dreamlike set that is all the more mysterious for seeming so very familiar and that quite literally incorporates the audience into its foggy interior as if they were toys in a child’s attic-playroom.
As the audience enters, the “child” is, in fact, lying facedown in a pile of snow, having apparently just fallen through the ceiling, leaving a hole through which more snow continues to fall. As she stands up and begins speaking it is immediately obvious that this is some kind of child in a woman’s body, or vice-versa—it is an ageless, Russian doll-like specter; a white rabbit, of sorts, leading us into the labyrinth of her own memories and distorted reflections.
Through this “child” flow many voices: her mother speaks, her brother, her father, her mother’s “friend,” her grandmother, her teacher, and others in a tangled tapestry of troubles and fears processed through this moppet’s mind. In said mind, there is discovered a lens through which relatively small wrongs are turned into great evils and the sins of grownups are transformed into the villains of fairytales.
Tracy Weller, who plays the “child” and who is one of the founders of the Mason Holdings Theatre Company, tricks the audience -- her toys -- into following her through a spellbinding performance that begins full of whimsicality and gradually drifts into corridors quivering with madhouse echoes. In an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere, an atmosphere formed by both the set and her performance, Weller ensnares her toys in a psyche trying to cope with things beyond its understanding.
Holiday House is, at times, flawed in its sheer freneticism, but, ultimately, all of the elements culminate in a highly memorable play about memories with a peculiar resonance that is hard to quiet long after the lights go down.