We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Maybe Steve Yockey went for one of those Icelandair specials offering a no-additional-cost stayover and regrets it. Or maybe he just chose the remote, expensive, beautiful city of Reykjavík as the setting for his latest supernatural horror anthology because the sun never goes down in the summer and never comes up in winter, the season in which his loosely interconnected set of twisty queer relationship vignettes takes place.
Yockey seems to relish the way in which the anthology format allows him to pivot between tenderness and cruelty. His prior Rorschach Theatre show, 2015’s very still & hard to see, was another collection of spooky tales set in a uniform location. In Reykjavík, each segment gets a video screen title card accompanied by a droning post-punk tune and some cheesy screensaver-y animation of crows; in the darkness of the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, that pounding music quickly conjures the sense of oblivion that at least one of Yockey’s characters, a boy named James, played by Josh Adams, is seeking.
James came to Reykjavík hoping to see the Northern Lights, he says, in the way that Rick Blaine went to Casablanca “for the waters.” The opening segment, set in “an after-hours lounge,” features projected supertitles to make its dialogue discernible over the pulsating clubby soundtrack. Without the captioning, we wouldn’t know that the two guys who invited themselves over to James’ booth, played by Carlos Saldaña and Dylan Arredondo, intend to drug, rape, and murder him. There’s no explicit depiction of sexual violence in the show, but the candid way in which it is discussed may be enough to alarm some audience members.
A story in which a murder of crows spies on two lovers played by Robert Bowen Smith and Arredondo, in a different role this time, during sex and offers unsolicited but piercing insight—translated into English via cheery concierge Saldaña—into their relationship brings more whimsy to the evening. In another darkish vignette, Arredondo, in a third role, rents the company of Adams, playing a different character, while making revealingly erroneous assumptions about who his fuckboy actually is.
While tonal code-switching feels deliberate, the extent to which Yockey and director Rick Hammerly intend for these tales to intersect narratively isn’t always clear. The discrete storylines are not of equal interest, and the double- and triple-casting gets confusing on the occasions when actors do reprise their roles from previous scenes.
On the plus side, the episodic format still lets these half dozen actors flex their muscles in rewarding ways. There’s a nimble quality to Adams’ performance as the prostitute, like he’s used to being underestimated. (Or to being cast as hustlers hired by deeply troubled Johns—he played a similar part in Theater J’s production of Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide… in 2014.) Smith has a particularly strong monologue about a mortifying chapter from his adolescence, long before he came out, when he was caught with a big bag of gay erotica. That scene has all the horror and comedy and tragedy that Yockey could possibly want, and there isn’t anything supernatural about it.
To March 3 at 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $20–$30. (202) 399-7993. rorschachtheatre.com.