Sinister suspense chills audiences

Alexa Canelos and Molly Franco as Lina and Adela make their characters come to life in The Praying Mantis.
Alexa Canelos and Molly Franco as Lina and Adela make their characters come to life in The Praying Mantis.

By Caroline Forde

A spine-tingling story left audiences in awe at Rider’s production of Alejandro Sieveking’s play The Praying Mantis, which took over the Yvonne Theater April 8-12. The show focuses on three spinsters and their dirty little secret: their sister. Along with an alcoholic father and a mild-mannered suitor, The Praying Mantis trapped the audience in its clutches with its exciting plot and curious premise.

As soon as audience members stepped into the Yvonne, they were transported into a Chilean home. Soft music played in the background, and rich purple curtains lined the back of the stage. However, one thing stood out most to the audience: a peculiar white and grey door. It was clear that this simple door would be a key point in the story that was about to unfold.

The play starts with some banter, which unsettles the audience immediately, since two of the girls, Llalla and Lina, are dressed in stark black mourning garments. Here, a dark secret is revealed: the sisters are confined to their home because they, coincidentally, both shot and killed their respective boyfriends, and have become gossip fodder for the locals in town. In contrast, Adela, another, younger sister, steps on stage in a slinky red dress. It is revealed that the house is expecting a guest: her boyfriend, Juan. The sisters buzz about getting themselves and the house ready.

While they are discussing the plans for the day, a ghastly cry is heard from behind the ominous door in the living room. This is the fourth sister, Teresa, who is locked in a room by herself. Throughout the play, she interrupts moments of both angst and humor with her anguished cries or, in some cases, the sound of scratching on the wooden door. Though Teresa is never seen, sophomore musical theater major Sara Davis was eerily perfect for the role. Her voice, which was equal parts innocent and mature, was just creepy enough to really make a lasting impact on the audience.

When Juan, played by senior theater performance major Sean Cackoski, arrives, it is clear that he and Adela seem to be hopelessly in love. Yet, as Act I progresses, this changes. Adela, who first appears relatively quiet and sweet, transforms into a scheming seductress once her two sisters leave the room. She seduces Juan with ease and convinces him to rob the bank he works for, stating that he has to do it if he “loves her.” Adela was portrayed beautifully by junior musical theater major Molly Franco. She was subtly powerful and surprisingly devious as she seductively recited a poem for her lover. Franco’s body language, too, changed from calm and innocent to sultry and powerful as Adela effortlessly manipulated Juan to get what she needed from him: $200,000 to escape her home.

Llalla and Lina try to seduce Juan, as well. Llalla, who, throughout the show, is a bit neurotic but charming and funny, tries to seduce Juan with promises of home-cooked meals. Abby Anderson, a junior musical theater student, was a riot in this role, often offering great moments of comic relief. Her portrayal of the over-dramatic Llalla left audiences in stitches, yet she was equally convincing and entertaining when showing the serious side of Llalla.

Cackoski was endearing in his role as the clearly nervous, bumbling boyfriend. He was noticeably lost as to why the girls were so nonchalant about Teresa, and his genuine desire to help overwhelmingly made audiences want to root for him.

But perhaps the two most powerful performances were delivered by senior John Beirne and sophomore Alexa Canelos. Bierne played the alcoholic father of the four girls. His emotional breakdown in which he praises Teresa as a gift from God was truly magical. The father’s horror at losing his wife and relief at finding a saint in his daughter were clear in his brilliantly performed monologue.

Not to be outdone, Canelos’ stoic portrayal of Lina, the wisest daughter, was outstanding. Her passionate plea for Juan to love her was performed with a perfect blend of attitude and desperation. It was clear that Lina, more than her two sisters, just wanted someone to love her, and Canelos’ portrayal of Lina made audiences want someone to love her.

Throughout the play, Juan is warned by Adela not to enter the locked room in which Teresa resides. Yet, after he is left alone in the living room, Teresa begins talking to Juan through the door. She appeals to his sympathetic nature and urges him to open the door and join her. He does, and the final, shocking truth is revealed: she lures people to their ultimate doom. The three sisters attempt to rescue Juan, but it is too late. He is bloodied and mad, claiming that she is now his reason for living and the true beauty of the earth. Adela tearfully shoots him, saving him, and humanity, from Teresa.

The Praying Mantis was unpredictable and exciting, an unusual addition to Rider’s fine theater fare.

 

Printed in the 4/15/15 edition.

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