Theater review: ‘Phenomenon of Decline’ at Son of Semele


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Time exacerbates all wounds in Joe Tracz’s “Phenomenon of Decline,” a guest production at Son of Semele Ensemble.

Not since the winds wuthered through the heights have such raptures of grief been suffered by a main character.


Fifteen years ago, Randolph (Stephan Madar) was playing with his twin brother, who went into a bog to retrieve a ball – and vanished. Now Randolph, a would-be writer, lives on the bog in a shack (courtesy of Adam Lillibridge’s evocatively moldy set design) that is inexorably sinking into the mire. Haunted by his lost brother’s voice, Randolph still hopes that his twin is simply trapped in another dimension and will emerge from the goo at any moment.

Randolph’s girlfriend, Autumn (Han Nah Kim), tired of living with ghosts, is getting ready to bail out of her increasingly seepy digs. And, like the spirits of Christmas past, Randolph’s three sisters (Kiera Zoubek, Meredith Wheeler and Alia Wilson, dressed weirdly and respectively as an Egyptian priestess, a Halloween vampire and a church pageant angel) pay fateful visits that may jolt Randolph into redemptive expiation.

Or maybe not. What role do the sisterly priestess and vampire play in Randolph’s fragmented psyche? And is the angel-winged Misty actually living or dead?

Tracz tends toward glaring metaphor, but his play – part gothic melodrama, part abstruse fantasy – has the potential to genuinely haunt. Yet despite Brian Wood’s effectively creepy sound design, the requisite mysteriousness largely eludes director Caitlin S. Hart and her cast, whose on-the-nose interpretations leave us longing for less – and more.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“Phenomenon of Decline,” Son of Semele, 3301 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Ends Sunday. $20. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes.
Photo: Alia Wilson and Stephan Madar. Credit: Koury Angelo