Playwright: Kristin Idaszak
At: The Den, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: WildclawTheatre.com; $15-$30. Runs through: Oct. 13
If you were going to give the elevator pitch version of Kristin Idaszak's Second Skin, now in a world premiere with WildClaw Theatre, you might well go with "It's The Secret of Roan Inish meets Conor McPherson." This despite the fact that Idaszak's atmospheric tale takes place nowhere near the Irish settings of either John Sayles' 1994 movie or playwright McPherson's dramas.
But in subject matter and structure, the parallels are irresistible. Yet Idaszak's play, by focusing on the parallel yet alienated lives of women who are related to each otherbut cannot relate to each otheradds a welcome twist of realism to the mysterious.
Sayles' magic realist film was about a young girl in an Irish fishing village who is convinced her baby brother was stolen away by a mythical half-human, half-seal creature called a "selkie." McPherson has long been lauded for his use of interlocking monologues and use of supernatural tales as a way of exploring grief and loss. That's the way Idaszak tells her ghostly and poignant story about the fragile but persistent bonds of sisters, mothers and daughters.
Quinn ( Stephanie Shum ) fled her small seaside home as soon as she was able. She's run away from the mother whose nameless fears kept both of them shut away inside their home. But now her mom, Sigrid ( Paula Ramirez )whose name conveniently rhymes with "secret"is suffering from ALS and needs her daughter's help. A chance meeting with a woman in a bar sets off a series of revelations about Sigrid's long-lost sister, Aislinn ( Hilary Williams ).
The stranger reminds Quinn of a chance encounter on a beach when she was quite youngan encounter that started her mother on the path of overprotectiveness that Quinn resists. In the second monologue, Sigrid fills us in on who that stranger is ( spoiler alert: it's Aislinn ) and the guilt she still feels for what happened to her. In the third part, Aislinn emerges from behind the large round window at the center of Lizzie Bracken's set ( which looks like a ghostly pier ) and tells her side of the story. ( Sarah D. Espinoza's sound design provides otherworldly mournful notes, while Kaili Story's lights add a sense of being underwater. )
The main details of the intertwined narratives don't really conflictbut the emotions do. Jess Hutchinson's staging gives each actor breathing room to grow their tale, trusting that we'll follow them through the mists of the past and let us empathize with all three women. It's not, perhaps, as dark or gory a tale as some past WildClaw efforts. But it slowly exudes a clammy sense of dread and sorrow as the women confront interior ghosts of guilt, regret and retribution that are harder to shake than any spirits in the night.