‘Marsha’: A little girl, a cold village


Alan Harris in the production "Marsha," which also features Julia Thomas (co-director and performer) at the Capital Fringe Festival. (Andrew Parry; Courtesy Capital Fringe Festival)

With a slight nod to “Carrie,” the monodrama “Marsha” tells the story of a troubled, neglected little girl, who, left to her own devices in a cold and insular town, wreaks a kind of havoc that you imagine a mere kind word or two might have prevented.

Welsh actress Julia Thomas, providing her own sound effects on a cassette recorder she wears like a shoulder bag, narrates Marsha’s encounters with townspeople, who snipe about her behind her back. Although she’s under the impression that she’s quite pretty, Marsha apparently suffers from some kind of unexplained disfigurement, which prompts occasional expressions of pity from the townfolk, but mostly compels the mothers of small children to recoil.

Playwright Alan Harris leads us slowly down a murky trail to horror in this new play being unveiled at Capital Fringe Festival, in fact, too slowly. Before “Marsha,” performed in the Bedroom at Fort Fringe, reaches its chilling final minutes, audience members have drifted off into ruminations about what to do after the show, or ponderings about how many times the actress will pull a flashlight from the pocket of her dress and aim it at a bare spot on the wall.

What the play lacks is a finer feel through the darkness, in advance of the final disturbance it recounts. The screeching sounds Marsha plays again and again on her recorder add to a sense of incoherence, rather than foreboding.

The stories Thomas tells, of Marsha’s encounters with a shopkeeper and a farmer, are expertly evoked, but they’re more poetic than they are narratively useful. The disappointment of it is that Thomas is an excellent conveyor of Marsha’s durable oddness.

Marsha

by Alan Harris, directed by Harris and Julia Thomas. Lighting, Isobel Howe. About 50 minutes. Through Saturday at Capital Fringe Festival. Visit www.capfringe.org.

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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