Wax Wings Gives Cain and Abel an Artistic Treatment in ‘Eyes Shut. Door Open’ (4 Stars)

‘Eyes Shut. Door Open’ – Written by Cassie M. Seinuk; Directed by Christopher Randolph; Set Design by Kyle Blanchette. Presented by Wax Wings Productions at The Inner Sanctum Gallery at 4 Palmer St. in Roxbury through August 15th.

Is psychic pain an essential ingredient to creating art?

Maybe not, but in the case of Turner Street, who escaped the drudgery of a small Midwestern town to become the toast of the Soho art scene, that certainly seems to be the case. Turner is the protagonist of ‘Eyes Shut. Door Open’, an absorbing original play by Cassie M. Seinuk now being staged by Wax Wing Productions at the Inner Sanctum Studios in revitalized Dudley Square.

When we first meet the narcissistic Turner at an art opening in Soho, he is sizing up the talent to see which ‘vapid’ young woman he’ll be bedding for the evening. His ego is as outsized as the checks that art patrons grant him for his paintings ($50,000 for one minor work), until he tries his hand with Johanna, an alluring catering waitress/writer working the event. She appears unimpressed by his stature in the art community, and he becomes further intrigued by her when she makes a correct assessment of what drives his work. She agrees to go home with him, allegedly to see the paintings that his agent deemed ‘too raw’ for the gallery – but her motives are far more opaque than his.

Just as the flirting between the two begins to get physical, in walks Palmer, Turner’s brother from back home, and this fresh variation on the biblical tale of Cain and Abel begins to unfold. Palmer wears an eye patch, a constant reminder to both brothers of the car accident that decades before had permanently scarred the younger boy – with Turner behind the wheel. The two have not seen each other for two years, and the explosive struggle for the truth between the uber successful Turner and his pain killer-addicted brother carries into the night, with Johanna serving as referee/peacemaker.

The play is less about what drives artists to create than about screwed up family dynamics, so the real joy in this piece is watching how those unresolved conflicts from early life play out in adulthood. The deck is stacked against the boys from the get-go, what with an abusive alcoholic dad (who died when Palmer is six and Turner 16)and a mother who engages in a string of relationships with live-in losers (presumably cast in the same mold as dear old dad). So one man finds drugs while the other escapes into a blank canvass, but neither finds much happiness or meaning to their lives, which sets up this cleverly orchestrated showdown.

This well-directed work features some terrific performances by a talented cast. Victor Shopov (Turner), who has played a number of highly confident, wholly unlikable characters quite brilliantly in the past year (‘Bent’, ‘Submission’, ‘Bad Jews’) delivers again. But this time we see his character’s swagger dissolve as he crumbles in the face of the tag team beating delivered by both the truth and the looming specter of his father (sometimes quite literally). As Palmer, Michael Underhill absolutely nails the essence of the desperate addict, effortlessly shifting gears from charming snake to little boy seeking approval to unrepentant thief to blamethrower. It is a thoroughly realized performance. And relative newcomer Melissa M. DeJesus does a nice job as the cynical and manipulative Johanna.

Despite the inclusion of a few too many details that sometimes slow the pace of the play, this is a well-written piece that works on a number of levels (including a bit of a horror story that adds a dimension that I’m not sure I was totally sold on but does provide some chills). Wax Wings also looks like they may have found a charming performance space not too far from the old Factory Theatre, home to many a fringe group before they closed late last year. ‘Eyes Shut. Door Open’ makes it well worth the trip. For more info, go to: http://waxwingsproductions.com/current-production/