Originally posted on Onstage NTX

You are here.

You weren’t there.

These short sentences encapsulate the push-pull at the heart of Amphibian Stage’s taut, challenging world-premiere work from playwrights Melissa Crespo and Sarah Saltwick, Egress. The first, repeated throughout the piece, evokes maps, building diagrams: a red star grounding you in space, in relation to stairs and elevators, entrances and exits. And exits are a major concern for Egress’ protagonist, dubbed simply “You.” The second defines a void, a moment in time that haunts our protagonist as she struggles to escape from the horrors of her past, and those that may exist only in her mind.

“You” (a magnificently controlled Jessica Vera) is an adjunct architecture professor who, following a traumatic break-up, flees from her home in New York City for a teaching position at a small New Jersey college. Her course, “Architecture, Safety, & Ethics,” is based around her specialty: egress, or systems for safely exiting a structure. Safety is You’s driving focus, not only in her professional life, but in her personal life as well. Haunted by the actions of her ex-boyfriend and barreling towards an inevitable reckoning, You and the play itself spiral into increasingly frantic questions around safety: What do we need to feel safe? And what things are we willing to sacrifice in the name of safety? The place of guns in that equation is a persistent theme throughout the piece, speaking to the ongoing and uniquely American debate on that issue.

Rounding out the cast are the phenomenal Garret Storms, a veteran of too many local productions to name, and Sky Williams in her Amphibian debut. Storms is a consummate theatrical chameleon as “Man”, a part that runs the gamut from a delightfully vacant student in You’s class, to a folksy online gun salesman, to a truly terrifying amalgam of You’s childhood nightmares and her violent ex-boyfriend. Williams (“Woman”) brings a flighty charm to You’s roommate and friend, beautifully contrasted with her steely portrayal of the prosecutor doggedly pursuing You’s testimony against her ex.

Director Emily Scott Banks keeps the action moving steadily and inexorably forward as a sense of dread grows, fed by David Lanza and Adam Chamberlin’s fantastic sound and lighting design for the piece. In the climactic confrontation between You and her nightmare ex, there were genuine jumps in the audience as You is stalked by shadows, and a grisly combination of red and green lighting perfectly evoked blood drifting through swampy waters. A moment when You is menaced by her nightmare owes some of its terror to Rusty Jones’ scenic design, with tattered strips of fabric at the back of the stage becoming tall grass for a predator to stalk through.

A don’t-miss production from one of North Texas’ most consistently groundbreaking theaters.

Running from October 29-November 14

It’s a comfort after so long in the theatrical wilderness to know that Amphibian Stage will never fail to satisfy, unerringly choosing thought-provoking and boundary-pushing works of art. Egress is a masterful look at trauma and recovery, at what we seek to escape and what that escape may cost us.

A don’t-miss production from one of North Texas’ most consistently groundbreaking theaters.