Holly is a pregnant, 15-year-old born-again Christian who holes up in her basement with her enormous collection of dolls, which serve as her only confidants.
Allow me to admit some bias here: I hate dolls. I hate them because they are terrifying. Like robots in the uncanny valley, dolls are far too lifelike for comfort. For me to embark on a story about “Holly” is like Indiana Jones lowering himself into the snake-filled Well of Souls. But these are the kinds of sacrifices I make for you, dear Backstage readers: I bravely go where many small, apparently fearless children have gone before.
“Every time I tell people about this play, that’s the reaction I get,” said Dove, when I revealed I found the prospect of a stage filled with 230 dolls to be extremely creepy. “There’s plenty of reasons for these dolls to be creepy, to be honest. They try to do some fairly nefarious things to Holly.”
That’s reassuring! But to Dove, the dolls were a big part of the play’s appeal. “I’m a big puppetry nerd,” he said. “[In] this play, there’s a whole mix of different types of puppetry. A lot of unconventional puppetry. There’s only one traditional puppet in the play.”
He is referring to the Carol Channing ventriloquist’s dummy (the seemingly random selection of Channing is based on a real doll that belongs to Corthron’s niece) that is operated by Vanessa Strickland. “[She] serves as a sort of psychotherapist to Holly,” said Strickland. “Whenever Holly gets upset or angry, you hear my voice coming from offstage. . . . I’m the one who she listens to and I’m the one who knows her best.”
“I’m just a grown man playing with dolls,” said puppeteer Luke Cieslewicz, who manipulates many of the dolls in the show. They operate in a kind of “Toy Story” reality — with the exception of Holly, humans rarely, if ever, see the dolls moving and talking. “They’re kind of projections of Holly’s thoughts and the arguments going on in her head,” Cieslewicz explained.
Thursday to Oct. 20, 8641 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, 240- 644-1390, www.forum-theatre. org.
‘Dying City’: A family at war
“Dying City” at Signature Theatre is Washington’s latest installment in the “war ain’t over when it’s over” genre (see also: “Time Stands Still,”
“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,”). Peter and Craig are twin brothers. Craig dies in Iraq under unclear circumstances; a year later, Peter shows up at his sister-in-law Kelly’s apartment, despite having not spoken to her since Craig’s funeral.
Thomas Keegan, who plays Peter and Craig, and Rachel Zampelli, who plays Kelly, brought the Christopher Shinn script to director Matt Gardiner together.
Gardiner, who was the director of “Xanadu” at Signature this summer, says he’s often given scripts by actors and usually reacts by “scream[ing] and running away, and I read the script thinking about how I’m going to tell them I’m not interested. But somehow, reading this play. . . . It really struck me.”