In a world in which many things (including plays) are easily categorized, Charise Castro Smith’s Feathers and Teeth is a delightful anomaly. At first glance, it’s a dark parody of such late ‘70s family sitcoms as The Brady Bunch, replete with shag carpeting, lacquered hairstyles and uneasy family dinners. Beneath its chrome-and-plastic surface, though, the play is an emotional journey through the mind and attitudes of its protagonist Chris, whose typically adolescent traumas are heightened by recent family turmoil: the death of her mother and the arrival of her stepmother Carol, whose chirpy demeanor may be hiding a darker reality. And there are other forces—unseen but distractingly, perhaps ominously, vocal. Are they figments of Chris’ fevered imagination? Or are they something more insidious, more terrifying—perhaps a portent of untold horrors to come?
A wily mashup of family drama, absurdist satire, farce and out-and-out suspense, Feathers and Teeth is also exuberant in its theatricality, especially in its onstage use of a Foley artist—the usually unseen but ubiquitous source of sound effects, reactions and mysterious voices—to heighten the sense of other-worldly weirdness that Chris is experiencing. Added as part of the first public reading of the play (in our 2013 New Stages Festival) and developed subsequently through the play’s New Stages workshop production last fall, this element has become central to the fun and foreboding that Castro Smith has captured in this new work. Under the able directing hand of Resident Artistic Associate Henry Godinez and a skilled company of actors and designers, Feathers and Teeth is perhaps one of the most unusual plays the Goodman has ever produced. It’s also a haunting and entertaining introduction to one of the most idiosyncratic playwrights now at work in the American theater.
For generations the idea of “the creature under the bed” has been a staple of children’s stories and adult nightmares, encapsulating the unknown fears that lie in wait just out of sight. In Feathers and Teeth, Castro Smith takes this age-old trope and gives it new vitality, in a play that will amuse you as it scares you. And it might just remind you of those undefinable but powerful terrors that plague us all, even in our own backyards.