There's something very, very wrong in the antiquated house in The Curse of the Great Eleven. The walls sag with secrets. Something smells in the basement, money's falling out of cupboards. To call the featured family dysfunctional would be more than a mild understatement. To be sure, there's an elephant in the living room, but the audience can't see what it looks like.
Part black comedy, part mystery, and all the way freaky, the premiere of The Curse of the Great Eleven centers on the descendants of a 1920's Californian cult that committed mass murder. In this case, "family" refers to Gab, a ghostly, ill, foul-mouthed paraplegic; Tall, her robust young caretaker; Willa May, a bruised, doll-like woman who keeps slipping into the past; and some omnipresent unmentionables. Events begin unfolding when Willa May's older sister, Curse, returns to the house to settle her affairs, towing along her clueless fiancé, Chance, for moral support.
Nothing in the house is what it seems, however--especially its inhabitants. The past mingles with the present until the two are indiscernible. And then there's that thing in the basement...
Another cast may not have been able to pull this show off, but the Sowelu Theater Ensemble has made the mystic very believable, very funny and very scary all at once. Los Angeles playwright Lea Floden has debuted work with Sowelu's Plays in Progress program before (1998's Headless). Besides committing at least a couple years to the birthing process of a new play, the Ensemble gives the show a 10-week rehearsal process to work out the kinks and performs the show a year later to measure its growth. It's an exhaustive, dedicated program.
But even though Great Eleven is a work in progress, it's easy to forget you're watching a play. An organic energy works between the characters, pushing and pulling toward the bizarre climax. As characters finish each other's staccato-pattered thoughts by asking more questions, the show becomes propelled more by what's not said than what is. In the end a certain satisfaction is granted the audience, only to leave a host of questions. It's as riveting as it is puzzling. ANNA SIMON