Red Tape Theatre inaugurates its new “The Ready” space with Howard Barker’s scenery-chewing angst-fest I Saw Myself.
The 13th century widow Sleev (Carolyn Hoerdemann), vulnerable in a black slip, is weaving a tapestry of her life at center stage (invisible, but still causing sight-line issues in Eleanor Kahn’s design), barking orders at her assistants, the maid Hawelka (Elyse Dawson), one weaver Keshkemmity (Emily Nichelson), and another weaver Ladder (Jyreika Guest), who uses a ladder to reach the higher portions, of course. Rachel Sypniewski’s costumes also include black boots and neutral-toned, clingy, belted dresses for this Greek chorus.
The matriarch is also attended by another trio, her daughter, Sheeth (Kelsey Shipley), son-in-law Guardaloop (Jake Szczepaniak), and their sunburnt baby. The permanent residents are hard at women’s work, figuratively and literally weaving her stories, which involve violence, infidelity and regret.
They’re also under the gun, real and imagined, finishing the duchess’s woven history before the unnamed war hits their home, and before she loses her metaphorical and actual sight.
It’s a misogynistic retelling of Ariadne’s Thread, using string to navigate a maze, here of lives and decisions. The path we see is women being used and objectified, as appendages even as they desperately try to capture their lives in fiber writ large.
Barker dabbles in Brecht, Chekhov and the Scottish play with ghostly, soldierly visitations, but the result is a rough, exhausting super-speedy scream fest.
Among the missteps are a few wry observations, such as the difference between the art of tapestry on a wall versus it becoming a carpet on which to put your (literal and figurative) boot, and the observation that “all lies start with ‘listen.’”
British Barker is known for “The Theatre of Catastrophe,” which is shown in spades here. The question is why, and to what end? The narrative has already spun out of control.
I Saw Myself runs through February 17 at Red Tape Theatre, 4546 N. Western Ave., with shows Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm. Running time is about two hours with one intermission. For ages 18 and over (mature themes and nudity). Red Tape is founder of the free theater movement, so free tickets are available.