Akvavit Theatre presents THEY DIED WHERE THEY LIED.
The Akvavit Theatre is a newer company focusing on ‘what “Nordic” means and how it is perceived through translated theatre performance.’ THEY DIED WHERE THEY LIED was my first opportunity to be exposed to their artistic mission. On the surface, it seemed very Americana. An estranged couple goes camping. They are getting drunk on boxed wine to open the lines of communication. They snipe. They gripe. They get wasted. They are visited by strangers collecting berries and mushrooms. The program confirms the berries and mushrooms are symbols of Nordic culture and identity. Oh! I didn’t get that until my post show read-around.
Co-directors Matthew Isler and Mark Litwicki pace this with awkward silences. The show starts with Brian Hoolahan (Erik) and Mallory Nees (Anna) staring straight ahead and chugging wine. Already, the tension is apparent. Without saying a word, Hoolahan and Nees effectively build the angst. Then, the first words uttered, ‘are you drunk enough to talk?‘ reinforces the marital strife. As Hoolahan and Nees bicker, we piece together the essences of their relationship. Nees plays alpha-dog wife with an iron clad exterior. She only gives glimpses of underlying vulnerability. Hoolahan, on the other hand, bares his weaknesses. He endears as the pathetic, unemployed husband.
Under Isler and Litwicki’s direction, Hoolahan and Nees authentically resemble the couple people want to avoid. There is some discomfort in being a gawker to their marital implosion. At its best, the show has some “War of the Roses”-like dark comedy. The spiraling boozy madness could have accelerated to even more absurd levels. The speed bump was the Nordic aspect. I didn’t understand the reason or need for the couple to be interrupted by people picking berries and mushrooms. Those odd scenes seemed like characters walking through the set to get to a different play.
Still, THEY DIED WHERE THEY LIED entertains as a cautionary tale about marrying booze, camping, and anger together.
Running Time: Eighty minutes with no intermission
At The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee
Written by Sofia Freden
Translated by Edward Buffalo Bromberg
Co-directed by Matthew Isler and Mark Litwicki
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru December 1st
Buy Tickets at www.akvavittheatre.org