Regional Reviews: St. Louis
But you don't see it coming, because Anthony Horowitz's 1999 drama (set at a psychiatric prison for the criminally insane) is so patient with us in our analysis of the situation, which is highly flexible and subject to change. And we are dragged along, in our own malingering, over what's really going on, until we are lured to the hideous drama near the end, when everything we thought couldn't possibly happen does, of course, actually happen.
It's not frightening in the same way that another play, The Pillowman, is frightening. Mindgame seems much more straightforward in developing its outlandish terror, in the hands of the devilishly clever Chuck Winning, who plays Dr. Farquhar, the head of the lovely old Fairfield Mental Hospital. Fairfield is operated by the British taxpayers and therefore accessible to all (all of the criminally insane, that is, which is probably not you, at the moment).
Fairfield is a former private estate, and the warm and disarming Mark Styler, as played by Nick Freed, pops in and is made to wait two hours to see Farquhar. The doctor seems utterly to have forgotten about their little Q&A. But, at long last, Styler has finally gets an interview for a new book he's writing. He starts out by joking about the taxpayer-funded landscaping, twice.
Except that every time you think you've got Mindgame figured out, it turns sharply in another direction. So if there's still a part of you that doesn't mind feeling like an absolute fool for two hours, or even likes it, I can highly recommend it. Both actors go through absolute hell for our evening's entertainment. But the two-act play (including a 15 minute intermission) has lots of style, twists and turns.
Mr. Winning exhibits 100 different kinds of probing and investigation in Farquhar's interview with the author, his eyes (now and again) ablaze with anger toward Styler. Mr. Winning's very presence, in later scenes, will burn brighter than the sun. Mr. Freed's Styler, in a strange and heroic way, is forced to offer 100 different parries and thrusts out of his own nature, in response. If you know the basics about theater, you can imagine where all this goes, at least emotionally. The two make a shockingly dynamic team. It must be exhausting for them both, but it's a great show.
Meanwhile, Nicole Angeli has her own strange arc here, spanning the modern history of the various roles of womanhood, as a furtive attendant in Farquhar's employ. But, oh, good God. Why even talk about this? You can't say anything specific!
It's a perfect riddle for any occasion, if you've got two hours to be bashed about and strangled and threatened with sharp objects. Or, rather, the part of you that is inextricably wound up inside the pure theatrical experience of all that. Theatre is how we learn to feel, in a way, as a civilized mob. And learn how to exorcise our demons. Even 75% of the way into the sheer melodrama of it, when you're questioning why you would ever even subject yourself to this sort of violence and terror, I can still highly recommend it.
Mindgame runs through November 5, 2023, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Avenue, St. Louis. For tickets and information, please visit www.albiontheatreSTL.org.