Spine: ‘The Margins’ at Molotov Theatre Group by Robert Michael Oliver

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David Skeele’s The Margins opened this Saturday at Adams Morgan’s DCAC with its own brand of intimate terror.

The cast of The Margins: From left: Brian E. McDermott (Markus), Jen Bevan (Phyllida), Elliott Kashner (Lane), Yoni Gray (Trace), Katie Jeffries (Helen), and Adam R. Adkins (Jonathan). Photo by Kristin Jackman.
The cast of The Margins: From left: Brian E. McDermott (Markus), Jen Bevan (Phyllida), Elliott Kashner (Lane), Yoni Gray (Trace), Katie Jeffries (Helen), and Adam R. Adkins (Jonathan). Photo by Kristin Jackman.

Take the small theatre — and I mean 45-person tiny; put 4 psychics around a table; throw in an event organizer and a journalist; add a bit of fine fight choreography — smacks, flips, and double whammies; then slice in a pinch of blood; and begin to conjure.

You see, it’s an experiment in psychic power. It’s meant to bring fame and fortune to all involved; but it ends with the gruesome and the regretful and the “oh fuck, look what I’ve just done!

The subject of the conjure could be anyone: a politician, a diplomat, an industrialist. An imaginary construction, without historical roots, brought to life by the psychics themselves.

The group’s feminist historian (and psychic) — oh, what a dangerous combination! — wants to conjure a servant-girl she read about in an old diary entry, however. She doesn’t tell anyone about this subject’s real life basis.

Who is this servant-girl named Kate Beck?  What was her life like?  Was she happy? Such might be the stuff of a historical journal article, or a book.

The Molotov Theatre Group, safely ensconced in DCAC, cares nothing for academia, however; they’re into visceral performance, into getting under your skin, and letting it creep.

When the servant-girl shows up miserably unhappy — in fact, miserable beyond compare — our historian gets her wish, and more. And the creep takes over.

It’s all about the margins.

Webster defines “margin” in several ways; important to us is the following: “an area, state, or condition excluded from or existing outside the mainstream <the margins of critical discourse — Barbara L. Packer> <living in society’s margins>.”

In historical study, the “margin” refers to those folk about whom little is written. Because history has traditionally used the written word as evidence, those who write and record their perspectives receive the lion’s share of the good press. The history we study in high school is their history.

As servant-girls, i.e., indentured servant-girls from the 19th century, were mostly illiterate as well as powerless, they exist in the margins of history, beyond what the academic historian can explore. Thus, they remain invisible.

In the realm of the psyche, however, those who conjure beings, either imaginary or dead, exist in a different kind of “margin.” They use their power to explore the boundary between that which is known and that which is unknowable. They venture to the “margins” of sense perceptions, if you will, where they perceive or project their “marginal” experiences.

Molotov’s production of Skeele’s The Margins takes us into that realm beyond the “margins” and holds us, heads under water, for an intense 60 minutes.

When we finally come up for air, not really edified or more aware of the hardships faced by 19th century indentured servant-girls, we feel strangely relieved. “Thank goodness! It’s only theatre!” we say, as we venture out into the bustle of Adams Morgan.

As we look for a place to have a drink, standing perhaps at the corner of 18th and Columbia Road, we wonder where the next margin will be. We check our wallets. We hope all we know are safe.

“No Guts, No Glory!” a theatre professor told me many years ago. “No Guts, No Dead Bodies Either!” he might have said, if playing it safe is preferred.

And let’s be honest, almost all of us play it safe when it comes to what we conjure. Why? Because it is better to have drinks and conversation after the curtain has fallen than to have a corpse with a serrated pie server protruding from its belly.

But then again, it’s theatre, and all the world is a stage, for psychics most of all.

Running Time: 65 minutes without intermission.

The Margins plays through April 26, 2015 at Molotov Theatre Group performing at DC Arts Center (DCAC) – 2438 18th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Performances are every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7:30 pm. For tickets, purchase them online.

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LINKS

John Stoltenberg’s review of Molotov’s The Margins on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Do You Believe in Ghosts? An Explanation of the Horror Behind Molotov’s New Show, ‘The Margins by Alex Zavistovich.

Directing Molotov’s ‘The Margins’ – The Rules (?) of the Ghost Story by Carl Brandt Long.

The Nemo Effect and Music for Grand Guignol Theatre: Horror, Horror Everywhere’ by Gregory Thomas Martin.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.