Review: ‘The Days are Shorter’ creates surreal, remarkable moments

Julia is extraordinary, and, at 53, she should be tired of hiding. This is what the voices in her head tell her, anyway. They’ve kept her from sleeping for more than a week, and everyone she encounters lets her know how terrible she looks.

She’s sleep deprived, disoriented, exasperated, and more than a little lost. No mid-life crisis is attractive, but for this recently dumped lesbian escort obsessed with a 25-year-old polyamorous aspiring magician, it’s particularly alarming, and things seem to be going from bad to worse.

There’s much to be admired about Queer Theatre Kalamazoo and its current production, the world premiere of Chicago-based playwright Corrine J. Kawecki’s surrealist drama “The Days are Shorter”. The brilliance of the script is in the three peripheral characters who represent facets of Julia’s subconscious and the way the story unfolds so that the audience undergoes the same frustrations and confusion as its central character. It’s also noteworthy that the world created on stage is one completely devoid of men and, ostensibly, patriarchy — without calling attention to this unique anomaly.

Boundary pushing in these ways is what Queer Theatre Kalamazoo is about, and bringing new voices — and doing so with limited resources — is ambitious, and clearly a labor of love. All of this is to be commended despite the limitations of this production, directed with gusto by Sarah MacLean.

Produced in the basement of the First Congregational Church downtown, Sarah MacLean and Laura Kay Henderson’s design makes terrific use of the space, clearly delineating five different locales through about a dozen scenes without any real set changes to speak of, with the added touch of offering really lovely live music from guitarist and singer-songwriter Angie Jackson during early transitions and before the show begins. They also do impressive things with a very limited light grid and execute sound cues pretty seamlessly.

As for the cast, they play beautifully together despite the wide range of talent and experience, and what appears to be a need for more rehearsal. Dropped and flubbed lines opening night prohibited suspension of disbelief and interrupted the storytelling, as did lack of distinct motivation for things that were said and done. Opportunity for nuance was often lost.

However, despite these blunders, the show has remarkable moments. A consistent highlight is Paris Rutter’s shining and remarkably natural performance as Treat, who indeed embodies not just a believable character, but also a kind of magic, an antidote to the trickery that feels like Julia’s life.

Ellen Bennett brings wonderful depth as Ada, the 76-year-old wise crone who hired Julia as an escort but ends up giving far more than she receives. Though she seems far too young for the part, her stage presence is both strong and warm.

Shannon Fleckenstein is on stage for the entire nearly two-hour show without intermission as Julia, and portraying this complicated character is a feat. Fleckenstein best expresses the complex emotions physically, though the pacing in many of her scenes and clear motivation for her behavior is often off. She and Katie Houston as Pax have the strongest chemistry of all the couples, and this works quite well for the story.

The storytelling also works in the effective build toward the climactic scene in which all four characters interact and the surrealist conceit of the play most dramatically comes into focus. It doesn’t quite create catharsis for the audience, but there is a little bit of something wonderful here.

And that, after all, is what we theater lovers are after — and why we appreciate and support local artists who take risks, experiment, and bring voices and stories to light that are far too often relegated to the shadows.

The Days are Shorter
Queer Theatre Kalamazoo
Jan. 11-14