The world playwright Steve Yockey creates in “Reykjavik” feels like a fever dream on ice. Dark magic, sensuality and violence make this Grimm’s fairy tale for the 21st-century even grimmer. Set in the harsh winter of Iceland, the eight linked playlets in this 90-minute show take viewers into unknown territories as they watch an assortment of characters wrestle with ideas of love, fidelity and the things people will do to find themselves.
Rorschach Theatre’s production at the Silver Spring Black Box Theater, a rolling world premiere taking place in four United States theaters this season, starts with an introduction from an efficient airport-like gate attendant in the lobby. Maneuvering a long sterile jetway-style hall dotted with Icelandair travel posters before finally entering the theater gets viewers ready for this flight into to an odd, disturbing, yet engaging world.
“Reykjavik” carries a decidedly R rating, but director Rick Hammerly hopes that won’t scare the right theatergoers away. They should just leave children younger than18 at home. While the language is strong, it’s the situations and relationships the characters find themselves in that make this play adults-only. “Rather than characterize people who shouldn’t see the show,” he said, “folks who I think would benefit and enjoy the show are those who find that pushing boundaries is okay.”
In eight scenes, various characters find themselves in this mysterious other-worldly city, where darkness reigns in the deep of winter and visitors come for new experiences. Some want to see nature’s phenomena, the Northern Lights; others wish to lose themselves or find a loved one. “For me, ‘Reykjavik’ is about love, companionship, the things we will do to find partners in life. And once we do find them, the things we will do — both good and horrible — to keep them or to make sure that we don’t end up alone,” Hammerly said.
While some ghastly, bloody occurrences play out onstage and characters share some equally upsetting personal origin stories, Hammerly mines the moments of magic as much as those of violence. A thread of surreal fantasy pervades each of these compact tales, from a family of voyeuristic ravens who deliver messages via notes from a hotel concierge to otherworldly voices that interrupt conventional conversations to the sinister Ambiance Sisters — are they protectors or something far worse watching over a dungeon-like brothel?
“There are some things that are lovely. There are some things that are terrifying and there are some things that are just plain weird,” the director noted. Hammerly found Yockey’s play impactful and particularly meaningful because, “While most of the characters are in gay relationships, it is not a gay play.” He continued, “As a gay man, I have read so many ‘gay plays’ about the same two or three issues and they don’t tend to explore other parts of humanity.” In “Reykjavik,” the characters happen to be gay, but the stories they share are not related to their sexual orientation.
“For me, this is a universal play about what it means to be a human being, trying to find love and companionship with other human beings. That – and its darkness — attracted me to the play. I would venture to say – and the playwright might disagree with me — you could do this play with all heterosexual relationships and it would still have the same impact,” Hammerly said. “That’s the mark of a good play: It’s not wrapped around sexual identity. It’s actually wrapped around being human.”
In researching the “Reykjavik’s” Icelandic setting, Hammerly discovered much about the small – not more than 325,000 people live there – country’s pervasive folklore. Many Icelanders, he learned, are ardent believers in elves called Huldufolk. These creatures are essential to the country’s folklore and are viewed as protectors of the island’s fragile natural beauty and resources. “To this day, they’re still superstitious and follow the folklore surrounding Huldufolk,” he said. “They won’t build a road or a building in Iceland if they believe Huldufolk live in that part of the land, on a rock or in the trees.” The Huldufolk make appearances at the beginning and end of the play; clad in translucent hooded jumpsuits, they resemble otherworldly snowy creatures.
The setting, Reykjavik, becomes not just a place, Hammerly suggested, but a state of mind. “Reykjavik symbolizes a city, a place that most Americans don’t readily know about. They don’t know what life is like there. For me, Reykjavik represents place where you can go and not be you or be completely you. Nobody knows you. You can move through life and be whoever you want to be. We see that in the play. And it’s something we all fantasize about at one point or another: the ability to go someplace and start again. A place where we don’t carry all our baggage. A place where people don’t know us or make assumptions about us. That’s the magic of Reykjavik.”
Buckle your seat belts. Turbulence awaits.
Rorschach Theatre presents “Reykjavik” by Steve Yockey through March 3 at the Silver Spring Black Box, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. Shows start at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Monday, and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $20 to $30. Patrons must be 18 and older. Call 800-494-8497 or visit www.boxofficetickets.com/rorschach.