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Theater

Flushing Out the Emotional Undercurrents in WET’s ‘Stuck’

When the heart of a play is a woman sitting on a toilet for two years, there is bound to be some bathroom humor in the production. Based on a bizarrely true story, Washington Ensemble Theatre’s world premiere of Jessica Hatlo’s Stuck does not disappoint. But beneath the feces and filth runs a strong emotional core, played out with smart staging, strong acting and a quick-punch ending that drives home the deep emotional journey of the characters.

At first glance Amy (Kay Nahm) and Danny (Alex Matthews) seem like an average mid-twenties couple mired in a stagnant relationship, dead end job and too much weed. Except that Amy never leaves the bathroom, and Danny caters to her every want, bringing in pizza, running errands, and even sleeping by the toilet. To the chagrin of their nosy landlady Celeste (Jil Snyder-Marr), their apartment is trashed, the mailing is piling up, and no one is taking action. Each day when Danny leaves for work Amy slides into her own world, which revolves around television shows such as American Idol and What Not to Wear. As the garbage piles up and Danny starts to realize that he is wasting his potential, the relationship begins to spiral down the drain.

The cramped and claustrophobic set (Clare Strasser) is the perfect powder keg to destroy any relationship. Piles of garbage, old blankets and empty boxes fill up the generic apartment, causing Danny to maneuver dexterously through a maze of trash when moving through the space. A door between the living room and the bathroom serves as both a physical and metaphorical boundary—when Danny enters the bathroom everything in the relationship seems fine. He and Amy are cocooned in their own world of TV and junk food, without even a window to the outside world. As soon as he steps through that door and finds himself removed from his girlfriend (and with access to the outside world), then trouble starts. They fight when Danny is in the other room, and when an unpaid electricity bill causes the lights to go out, the two unleash a torrent of vitriol on each other; behind the safety of darkness Danny unleashes his true feeling about their relationship and the fact that he wants out.

Despite the fact that Danny is a washed-up loser, Matthews brings a certain charm to his character. When interacting with Celeste he stutters and bumbles like a child, and as she draws on his need for normalcy, his character draws up and becomes more confident as he realizes that he needs to make a change in his life. He’s an underdog, and you find yourself rooting for his success. At first Amy is ridiculous, and the characters that breeze in and out of her life are bizarre and humorous—Howie Mandel pops out of the sink, Oprah comes from behind the couch and Miss Cleo bursts from the shower. Nahm is full of sarcasm and an ‘I’m-always-right’ attitude that spirals away from funny and into desperation when she mistakes Danny for Maury. All of the sudden it becomes haltingly clear that the TV hosts were delusions and Amy is sick.

Nahm and Matthews have the convincing camaraderie of a couple who have been dating for a long time—perhaps too long. A play like this could easily sink into stereotype territory, but the actors carry enough emotional variation to keep the storyline rooted in a balance between serious and sickly funny. After all, it’s no easy task to pull off emotional vulnerability while sitting on the toilet.

 

Stuck runs at Washington Ensemble Theatre through April 9. Tickets herePictured above are Alex Matthews and Kay Nahm. Photo by Abiel Hoff Photography.

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