“Terra Incognita” at Annex Theatre

Annex prides itself on mounting new works by local playwrights; works such as this world premiere “Terra Incognita” by Benjamin Benne. Benne, a relative newcomer to Seattle, has gained attention at conferences and festivals around the country. “Terra Incognita” was a semifinalist in the 2014 O’Neil Playwrights Conference. His long-time friend Pilar O’Connell directs this production.

On a stark stage with little more than two folding chairs, initially, young Nadia (wonderfully played by Lillian Afful Straton) hesitantly begins her first session with the much older social worker/therapist, Sheila. As played by Gretchen Douma, Sheila is motherly but matter of fact. She’s not going to push, but she’ll get where she wants to go through quiet perseverance and wile. Douma, as does Straton, plays her character with finesse.

Both women are needy, but for different reasons. Through their interactions they are strengthened, even, perhaps freed from the past. “Old things we carry weigh us down,” says Sheila early in the play. It serves as a touchstone for the entire work.

Highlights of the production, in addition to the quality of the acting, are the scenes projected behind the actors (Leo Mayberry, Projection Designer). At one point the two women take a ride on Seattle’s Ferris wheel, and we go with them. It’s a great effect.

What was less effective for me was the “crow woman” who cawed her way to the stage at the play’s opening as deafening drumbeats accompanied her. She appears again later on. Crows, in various forms, are a metaphor for the angst suffered by Nadia. Ben Burris is responsible for the cleverly conceived crows that appear in light boxes at different points in the action. These well presented crows were a good addition.

Edgy, thoughtful, and presented by fine actors!

Through August 20, Annex Theatre, PMB 1440, 1122 E. Pine St., Seattle, (206 728-0933 or info@annextheatre.org).

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