When Gregor (Seann Gallagher) unleashes his id from the doldrums of a suburban marriage, he does so in an unconventional way. He confesses to his preoccupied therapist Doctor Frans (Kevin R. Free) that he’s skinned Wink, his wife’s cat. Gregor goes on to say that not only did he bury the poor feline in the backyard but that he’s hidden the pelt somewhere inside the house. At night when Sophie’s (Liz Sklar) asleep, he visits it like some sort of talisman that excites his libido. In Wink, playwright Jen Silverman arranges a collision point between this couple’s polite exteriors — their dutiful natures — and their repressed primal urges. But Gregor and Sophie’s sex life isn’t the (only) problem. It’s their imaginations that are in a state of decay.
Sophie also sees Doctor Frans. In therapy, and not with each other, both husband and wife feel freer to improvise, telling him their ugly or not-so-ugly secrets. She misses her cat and suspects that Gregor’s had something to do with its sudden disappearance. But Wink’s absence releases Sophie from having to honor her marital restraints, in a way that parallels her husband’s new sense of feeling liberated. Where Gregor’s now embracing and unleashing his inner brute, Sophie invents a dashing male alter ego that slowly overtakes her tame, subservient one. Sklar’s best scene involves her character’s surrender to chaos. Sophie starts to vacuum her living room until the cord gets tangled up. After that, in a temper tantrum that’s been years in the making, she destroys her house. Sklar delivers all that pent up frustration comically before convincing us that her outpouring of rage has been lying in wait for just the right moment.
Meanwhile, by some demonic pact that’s left unexplained, Wink shows up alive in the form of a nearly buck naked actor named John William Watkins. There’s dirt on his face and a nude-colored thong concealing his privates. Wink is hell-bent on revenge against Gregor so he approaches Doctor Frans. To sum up Frans’ approach to psychotherapy, the playwright includes two separate scenes in which he advises both of his clients to smash or shove their thoughts down. He advocates for suppressing whatever odd or stray emotions come to mind, including his own. Wink ingratiates himself with Frans, a man who’s so used to curbing physical desire he refuses to remove his own socks even when he’s alone at home.
Watkins doesn’t turn Wink into a Cats-inspired pantomime. He’ll stroke his face with his hand or bend down on the ground looking ready to pounce but there’s nothing cute or tame about this predatory feline. He’s the animal lurking in every suburban home, one that’s free to hunt and play at his leisure. Gregor and Sophie and eventually Doctor Frans follow his lead. But Silverman initially leads the audience to believe that Wink will delve into the problems this specific couple is facing in their particular marriage. The playwright frees them both without giving them any scene to reckon with each other’s new personas. It was disappointing to hear their early arguments, in which Silverman smartly examines the evasive conversations and day-to-day monotony involved in a long-term relationship, vanish. The marriage dissolves on stage in such a way that it erases the plausible fiction that they were ever together.
Wink’s plot to destroy Gregor fizzles out. Watkins is great at suggesting how diabolical his cat plans are but Silverman doesn’t follow through. He’s all meow and no bite. If Wink had started a few weeks or months before Gregor got out his paring knife, he and his wife’s separation would have mattered more to the audience. And Doctor Frans, despite Free’s great comic timing, is too weakly drawn a character to ground the play. Silverman wants to present the skinless, wriggling souls of Gregor and Sophie but ends the play by wrapping them up again in different, less familiar coats. Wink threatens to draw blood but the audience walks out of the theater only lightly scratched.
Wink, Through July 7, at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, $25-$60; 415-388-5208 or marintheatre.org.