Moth’ at DePaul’s Theatre School: A wild, haunting ride

Bullying has become something of a hot-button issue of late. Hardly a week seems to pass without a tragic story of its effects in the headlines. Whether this is indicative of a growing problem or just more focused attention on the issue is anyone’s guess. Declan Greene’s “Moth” strays from the usual path of societal indictment that many works about bullying take, and instead looks inward at what it does to a child mentally, physically and emotionally. Now playing at The Theatre School and directed by Michael Osinski, “Moth” takes a sledgehammer to any notions of what a play should be, with stunning, terrifying results.

The most striking and effective way that “Moth” differs from typical theater is its cast of only two – Noah Laufer plays Sebastian, a troubled yet eccentric kid whose enormous imagination is a blessing and a curse. Opposite him is Claryssa, played by Audrey Gladson, sort of the yin to Sebastian’s yang – cold, distant and frustrated with her lot in life. There are other characters too, including Sebastian’s mom and the kids who torment the pair regularly, and they are also portrayed by Laufer and Gladson moving in and out of character within a scene. Even the scenes themselves shift at a moment’s notice, without costume or set changes, giving the play a frenetic pace at times, and also focusing the emotional depth of the narrative. It’s much harder to figure out exactly what’s happening, or what will happen, in a scene with two characters jumping back and forth between roles, but this is hardly detrimental. The device forces the audience to question exactly what reality they are witnessing, adding a dark, cerebral element to the narrative.

Laufer and Gladson gel exceptionally, even if their characters seem to hate one another at times. One standout scene is an awkward romantic moment that Sebastian and Claryssa share, complete with uncomfortable dialogue and the two literally falling over each other. This moment so perfectly captures the experience of teenage romance that it might trigger flashbacks to your own first kiss.

The lighting and sound design, by Peyton B. Smith and Kami Siu, respectively, is equally exceptional. Brilliant reds and dark blues highlight the emotional intensity of select scenes, most notably when Sebastian is visited by an “angel of destruction.” Several hues of light combine with a fog machine to create an eerie, ethereal effect when this angel visits him during an out-of-body experience. Care was clearly taken even in the smallest of details, such as when Sebastian and Claryssa engage in an online chat. We hear the soft whirring of the computer and see a green glowing light from under the set. It’s a simple yet effective way to pull the audience even deeper into the play.

The ad for “Moth” on the TTS website notes that the play is “recommended for mature audiences,” and this is no understatement. With such intense subject matter and no intermission, “Moth” feels like a spooky roller coaster, and will keep viewers on their toes for its duration. As a supplement to the play, the creators of “Moth” at TTS have compiled a Tumblr with images, videos and text related to the play’s story and themes. Upon checking out the website the next morning, I found that it could be effective as a post-viewing adjunct to tie up any loose threads, or learn more about the play’s development Included are links to interviews with Greene, as well as mock family photos of Sebastian and Claryssa, screenshots from Neon Genesis Evangelion (an anime that Sebastian references frequently), and much more. The addition of the Tumblr was a unique touch, and an intuitive way to further engage audiences that more productions should take advantage of.

With “Moth,” The Theatre School continues its streak of producing captivating, risky pieces of theatre. It’s cutting-edge drama, right here on campus.

“Moth” runs through Feb. 23, Wednesdays through Saturdays, in the Healy Theatre at 2350 N. Racine Ave.