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the hollower

A quirky 16-year-old girl lives with a middle-aged lesbian menaced by a pig creature in a surrealistic universe with shades of David Lynch and John Hughes.

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Patrena Murray and Reyna de Courcy in a scene from Liza Birkenmeier’s “the hollower” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

[avatar user=”Darryl Reilly” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Darryl Reilly, Critic[/avatar]“The Chemotherapy Marionettes” is the name of quirky 16-year-old Bit’s hard rock band. As her parents are off somewhere after having been in a cult, Bit lives with a quasi-foster parent, the depressed middle-aged lesbian Otto (born Viktoria) in her unkempt Florida house. A radio broadcasts ominous news reports of a foreign war in the background.

Bit is busy with her high school project, a film about a 17th century French woman in Canada accused of witchcraft. Assisting her is superstar senior Wilkin Rush George III, known as “The Polanski of Claymation.”

Crawling through the window is Pigman a mysterious figure who is part human and part pig and has a hoof for one of his hands. He is accompanied by his silent cohort Missy who wears a football helmet and a surgical mask. They mainly taunt Otto and later have a podcast with her using a zucchini as a microphone. So it goes in the hollower.

Bit and Otto recall tomboy Frankie Addams and Berenice the maid from Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding while Pigman and Missy parallel Pozzo and Lucky from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  There’s an arctic sequence out of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. The dialogue contains a lot of contemporary academic jargon and it all could be interpreted as some sort of Millennial exploration.

Reyna de Courcy and Samuel Im in a scene from Liza Birkenmeier’s “the hollower” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Playwright Liza Birkenmeier’s pedigree includes an MFA from Carnegie Mellon, associations with the Public Theater, Lincoln Center Directors Lab, Ars Nova, and the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

With supreme confidence Ms. Birkenmeier offers a tedious, vague and pointless surrealistic escapade that has superficial echoes of David Lynch and John Hughes’ moody teen films. It strains to be funny and significant and tiresomely fails at both. The New Light Theater Project has assembled a sterling team to realize Birkenmeier’s 90-minute stylized vision.

Delivering a fearless performance as Bit is Reyna de Courcy who embraces the role’s overblown traits yet manages to arouse empathy. Perpetually hobbling about on animal print high heels, wearing different color neon wigs, and employing whiny vocal upspeak, the youthful Ms. de Courcy’s characterization is boldly appealing.

The soulful Patrena Murray is lovely as Otto. With her wide eyes, soothing voice and calm presence, Ms. Murray brings great depth to the character. Personable Samuel Im has a nerdy sensuality and intensity as the boy wonder Wilkin and gamely appears in drag at one point. Ryan Wesley Stinnett is flamboyantly menacing as Pigman. Shrouded in a mask for most of the time, ToniAnne DiFilippo is suitably chilling.

Besides the fine performances, director Kristy Dodson achieves momentum and visual interest with her proficient staging.

Ryan Wesley Stinnett, Patrena Murray and ToniAnne DiFilippo in a scene from Liza Birkenmeier’s “the hollower” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Max Archimedes Levitt’s gloriously hideous costume design adds apocalyptic luster to the production. Musty vintage casual wear, frayed tutus, and various other ugly garments convey creepiness.

Scenic designer You-Shin Chen provides a fabulously detailed messy kitchen. Carolyn Wong’s lighting design eerily represents the unease of the narrative. Sound designer Andy Evan Cohen perfectly modulates the effects and Tara Amber’s bracing original music.

Apart from burnishing Liza Birkenmeier’s resumé, the hollower doesn’t really accomplish much else.

the hollower (through June 9, 2018)

New Light Theater Project

Access Theater, 380 Broadway, 4th floor, between Walker and White Streets, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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