'Closets' examines the scars of childhood wounds

April 26, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck


When: April 26-28, 8 p.m.

Where: Mainstage Theatre, Towson State University.

Tickets: $5.

Call: 830-2787.

*** 1/2 Closets are where we jam the debris we don't want anyone to see. In Splitting Image Theatre Company's "Closets," these cubicles conceal the psychological debris accumulated by four adult characters who have spent years attempting to deal with -- or deny -- child abuse.

Presented as a work-in-progress at Towson State University, as part of the Experimental Theatre Festival co-sponsored by the Theatre Project, this movement-theater piece is an original, empathetic, highly accessible treatment of a difficult subject. And it is a moving example of what Splitting Image does best -- combining stunning artistry with psychological veracity.

Written and choreographed by Binnie Ritchie Holum and directed by Harvey Doster, "Closets" was inspired by workshops they conducted for the Baltimore City Department of Social Services.

On stage, however, the social-work aspect has been relegated to deep background. Instead, "Closets" uses fully-developed theatrical characters to demonstrate the lasting scars of childhood wounds.

Each character is assigned a closet in which to change clothes, preen or, most of all, hide. And each closet, designed by Kelly Phillips, reflects the damaged personality of its owner.

Maria Broom's seemingly self-assured character has an orderly closet, representing the strict discipline she has imposed on her life in an effort to banish memories of unmentionable childhood abuse by her mother's boyfriend.

John Benoit, who plays the flamboyant, gender-confused son of a mother incapable of love, has a closet containing both men's and women's clothing.

Amy Wieczorek's closet is like a jumbled playroom, filled with the substitute comforts of toys, food and, appropriately, a quilted comforter under which this meek, troubled young woman tries to hide from memories of abuse by her father and grandfather.

Ms. Wieczorek's closet is attached to that of Bob Holum, who plays her father, a recovering alcoholic. Though they are the only connected characters in the show, they never directly interact, reinforcing the theory of the alienation of abuse victims, as well as the difficulty of breaking the chain of abuse, which often repeats from one generation to the next.

Stepping out of their closets, occasionally leaning on but never acknowledging each other, the characters unravel their pasts and struggle to survive. At times, they also struggle physically with the closets, dragging them around the stage with ropes like huge millstones.

At one point, in a kind of loud, frantic canon, all four call out: "If I knew the truth, could I tell the truth? If I told the truth, could you hear the truth?" Granted, truth is a difficult commodity to pin down, but "Closets" comes darned close.

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