The Cull: revelatory design and direction

publicity photo for The Cull

I wasn’t expecting this stylized staging of The Cull. (Photo by Moonrider Productions)

Not to take anything away from the actors or anybody else, the real stars of this premiere stage production of The Cull are director Mindy Parfitt and set designer Amir Ofek. Their treatment of Michelle Riml and Michael St. John Smith’s script elevates it spectacularly.

As written, the play is naturalistic. In their 12,000-square-foot home, Nicole and Paul are hosting a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary dinner for their friends, the decidedly less wealthy Emily and Lewis. Lynne, another friend from their high school years, is also there to celebrate, along with her super-rich husband, John.

I first heard The Cull as an audio play in January of 2022. (Covid had scuttled the Arts Club’s plans to stage it.) Back then, I couldn’t tell what kind of world the play was trying to inhabit. Was it a sitcom? A melodrama?

But, with a stunning set of decisions, Parfitt and Ofek have established stylistic coherence. As I said, the baseline of the written script is naturalism: there are all sorts of references to food prep (slicing, tasting) and specific props, including bamboo napkins. But Parfitt and Ofek have discarded physical naturalism.

Ofek’s set is a gigantic square that looks like a thick, stylized slab of wood. The only other set piece is an enormous, exquisite chandelier: it looks like a collection of simple, delicate seashells.

On the slab, the actors sit on white, modernist chairs.

The characters still talk about tasting the food and folding the napkins — but they don’t do any of those things, which adds a revelatory level of abstraction. We can suddenly see how their conversations are rituals of dominance, alliance, and information seeking.

Parfitt’s setting of the actors’ movements, including their arrangements of the chairs, is satisfyingly choreographic. And the slab spins! It’s on a revolve, which makes the choreography feel even more sophisticated.

[Read more…]

The Cull: Focus!

Stephen Lobo: More of this guy (and his character) please.

What world are we in?

The Cull, which was written by Michele Riml and Michael St. John Smith, and which is being presented as an audio play, starts off as a bougie sitcom. Nicole and her husband Paul are hosting a dinner party — in their 12,000-square-foot house — to celebrate the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of their not wealthy friends Emily and Lewis. Lynne, a close friend from their youth, is also there with her husband John, who is seriously rich. The three couples banter and set up the rules for the evening: no phones, no business talk, no politics … “a little bit of sex is okay.” [Read more…]

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