It's not that playwright Gretchen Icenogle crosses boundary lines, exactly—it's more like she insistently yanks on them, challenging the parameters that people so often take for granted. With The Mark, another Stark Raving Theatre world premiere, Icenogle explores life's little gray areas, and she's not afraid to delve into some pretty murky territory.
In the first of the three interconnected vignettes that make up The Mark, a woman, Lucy, finds out that the married politician she had an affair with when she was 15, Patrick (Neil Goldschmidt, anyone?), has just died. The friend who brings the news of his death is the same friend who, years before, betrayed the secret of the affair—a subject that remains touchy between the two women. As Lucy reminisces about the relationship, memory becomes reality, and suddenly she is once again living her affair with Patrick.
Torrey Cornwell superbly renders the 15-year old Lucy, conveying the inexperience of youth while still doing full justice to the character's intelligence and emotions. It's like looking into a kaleidoscope, through which time, identity, and conventional morality shift and splinter.
The second and third acts, loosely related to the first, contain similarly boundary-bending takes on identity, morality, time, death, and love... a thematic grab bag that would sound overambitious if it didn't actually work. Not only is the piece thoughtful and remarkably well structured, but it's damn funny, too. Icenogle has an impeccable ear for dialogue, and a knack for capturing the essence of a character in just a few lines.
None of this would matter if the cast weren't up to the challenge; but I'm not sure lines have been written that this cast couldn't handle. Cornwell, Mario Calcagno, and Darcy Lynne juggle 10 characters between them, often tackling several within one scene. Under Matthew Zrebski's direction, the actors maintain a pace and tone that reign in the script's melodramatic tendencies, keeping things emotionally engaging without going overboard. The result is a fantastic show that, like a fairy tale turned on end, uses audience-friendly storylines and fun characters to create user-friendly packaging for its challenging and subversive ideas.