If you have a fear/distaste for certain rodents, say mice or their bigger cousin–rats, Mice at Ensemble Studio Theatre might not be your piece of theatrical cheese. The audience enters the theatre to find two women chained to posts in a very barren basement. We soon find out that Ayushi (Sharmila Devar) has been a prisoner for nearly three months. She tells newcomer Grace (Heather Robinson) she is the sixth woman, one every two weeks, to be chained in the basement with her. What happened to the others Grace innocently asks? Killed and eaten by their cannibalistic captor Ayushi states. She quickly details an escape plan for Grace to follow explicitly for their captor will be down shortly to prepare Grace for tonight’s meal. The escape doesn’t go quite as planned but Grace has interrupted Mouseman’s (Kevin Comartin) usual routine. Instead of prepping Grace for dinner, he has decided to conduct a job interview to see which of the women will join/replace him. The tension builds as the two women fight desperately to keep their lives as well as their sanity.
Playwright Schaeffer Nelson grew up in an Evangelical ministry family in Kansas and the play is his attempt to break up with his ex, God. Mouseman confesses that he is a former minister whose work lacked focus until he tasted the flesh of a baby abandoned in a dumpster behind his ministry. He only abducts the wives of ministers after church services on Sunday and his “job interview” becomes a test of true faith for him and his captives. It is an interesting twist on cannibalistic serial killers and religious fervor. It doesn’t quite work completely—Mouseman’s blood soaked costume speaks to him or is it his split personality. His motives seem muddled once he starts concentrating on hearing his voices. Ayushi makes a quick exit when given the chance, leaving Grace to ponder the revelation that she might be related to Mouseman. Given the limited confines of the play’s setting, Roderick Menzies’s direction is rather static. The trio of actors is good given the narrow range of their character’s emotions. Comartin, hidden in his life size mouse costume for most of the play’s 70 minutes, manages to convey threat and dominance. Devar ‘s Ayushi has her longtime captive’s wiles honed to a sharp edge even if she has lost her faith. Robinson’s Grace still burns with her religious zeal and faith in her God and fellow man.
Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave. in Los Angeles. Ends Nov. 5. https://dime.io/events/mice/9/2017/