A crying child pulled from a kitchen cupboard, a girl abruptly exiting a home by way of a window and a banged-up finger that turns into bark: The brand new play “Daphne” is chock-full of magical surprises and mystical transformations, however its surreal components go away the viewers with too many unanswered questions.
Within the play, which opened on Monday on the Claire Tow Theater, Daphne (Jasmine Batchelor) has just lately moved in together with her girlfriend, Winona (Keilly McQuail) — an abrupt change that has Daphne’s associates involved. And with good trigger: Daphne resides in a giant, mysterious home in the midst of massive, mysterious woods with a controlling companion who disapproves of her leaving or receiving visitors. After an accident leaves Daphne with an injured finger, she begins a botanical transformation like that of her mythological namesake.
Daphne and Winona’s poisonous relationship appears to be the set off for Daphne’s transformation, as is the case within the Greek delusion, when Daphne, a river nymph, prays for assist escaping the predatory god Phoebus Apollo and is changed into a tree. If “Daphne” is attempting to create a type of mythological fairy story, then the play’s different fantastical particulars solely introduce extra confusion: Winona’s peculiar, unseen hen named Phoebus; the neighbor (Denise Burse) whom Winona warns that Daphne is a home-invading witch; a human face present in a cupboard door.
Scenes with Daphne’s visiting associates (performed by Naomi Lorrain and Jeena Yi with a pleasant, although out-of-place, sitcom-style humor) appear meant to supply some context about Daphne’s world and life outdoors her new residence, however they do neither.
Offered by LCT3, Lincoln Heart Theater’s programming initiative for brand spanking new artists, “Daphne” is the skilled stage debut of Renae Simone Jarrett, a member of E.S.T.’s Youngblood collective for early-career playwrights. Jarrett’s script is spare, and the setup is initially intriguing, however in the end too obtuse. The course, by Sarah Hughes in her Lincoln Heart Theater debut, accentuates the darkish whimsy of the script however doesn’t present perception into what these whimsical components are supposed to specific. The identical for the forged: Although they dutifully inhabit their characters, they can’t make them really feel greater than ephemeral.
McQuail is particularly charming as Winona. Her languid approach of transferring, her dreamy supply of quixotic musings and her aloofness — with a pointy fringe of intention beneath — draw the highlight from Batchelor’s regular, although flatter, Daphne. Is Winona the massive unhealthy of the story, or simply the connection? Is there some larger evil? Is Daphne shedding her sense of actuality, or is that this a manipulation brought on by Winona, or by the suspicious neighbor subsequent door? With out clear stakes, it’s tough to take a position extra deeply within the story.
The manufacturing additionally withholds any specifics that may floor viewers in a selected setting. Scenes start and finish with snappy lighting transitions (by Stacey Derosier) between a cool daytime gentle and a heat nighttime glow, so Daphne’s world feels as if it exists in a timeless bubble. Maruti Evans’s rustic set design, a lounge and kitchen of a house lined with wallpaper consisting of large fall-colored leaves, additionally feels hemmed in, although the couple are supposed to be residing in a big, haunting abode.
“Daphne” is so good at creating a way of its fundamental characters’ insularity that the manufacturing additionally feels confining, caught inside a set of indecipherable metaphors. However in contrast to Daphne, who’s remodeled by the top of this 90-minute modern delusion, we’re left precisely as we arrived.
By Nov. 19 on the Claire Tow Theater, Manhattan; lct.org. Operating time: 1 hour half-hour.