It’s good writing to open a play with intimately drawn characters. In close quarters, drama is more personal and immediate—it creates conditions ripe for introducing information that casts preceding actions in a new and unexpected light, creating a sense of vertigo. Fata Morgana, the latest production by Boise Contemporary Theater, uses this vertigo to reveal a compelling vision of psychological terror.
Tori (Kathy McCafferty) and Jack (Matthew Cameron Clark) are a married couple living on the shores of a contaminated lake in the desert. When they’re visited by their pregnant, teenage niece, Morgan (Danielle Sacks), who’s angling to deliver her baby far from her less-than-understanding immediate family, Tori and Jack grudgingly agree to help their niece.
Jack’s job is to hunt the crows crowding the toxic lake and one of them—in the form of a puppet manned and voiced by BCT Associate Artist Dwayne Blackaller—has begun to haunt Tori, taunting her for her troubled past as an expecting mother. Meanwhile, Morgan has taken up the teenage business of sneaking pot and liquor while her caregivers aren’t looking. As Tori’s hallucinations become more menacing, Morgan resists pressure to be more responsible to her unborn child and in a devastating finale, there’s the revelation that Fata Morgana is a play about a pregnancy only under a microscope. Through a telescope, it’s about a terrible curse.
BCT received a $10,000 NEA Art Works grant to produce Fata Morgana, which allowed BCT to hire director Amy Saltz and costume designer Harry Nadal, who are both based out of New York. Thanks to Nadal and no fewer than four bodysuits, Morgan’s baby bump convincingly becomes a full-term pregnancy over the course of the play. Touches of biological realism added to the veracity of what was happening on stage. Sacks’ Morgan was the image of a bratty, self-absorbed teenager; and McCafferty and Cherene Snow (Morgan’s nurse, Shelley), delivered stand-out performances, giving Fata Morgana a day-to-day feel rather than that of a condensed account. Unfortunately, Blackaller was forced to awkwardly sneak around the stage, and more could have been done to integrate this engrossing facet of playwright Jeni Mahoney’s narrative into the play’s fabric.
Fata Morgana packs a wallop. It’s clever overall, funny in parts and inventive in ways that will draw audiences in. Be warned, though: It isn’t for the faint of heart.