I walk down a dirty driveway, the sun lingering just over the horizon. My friend Maggie is waiting for me in her home – a silver Airstream trailer. I’m not sure why she called, but it sounded important. I approach the door and knock three times. I see a silhouette move across the window. Maggie opens the door, and apologizes immediately – she shouldn’t have called. He’ll be back soon – that is, the thing that looks like him.
Where the Others Are is a site-specific immersive play from E3W Productions, perhaps best known for their acclaimed In Another Room. The production takes place inside a vintage Airstream trailer home, parked at an undisclosed location in Los Angeles. The story centers on Maggie, a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship, and Ben, her abuser. When Ben returns home after a long bender, Maggie doesn’t recognize the wicked man she married. He’s sweet. He’s docile. He’s different, and it’s frightening.
Only two audience members are present for each show, and they are asked to remain mostly silent. There is light touch from the actors, and claustrophobic guests may have trouble with the confined spaces of the trailer.
It is difficult to discuss Where the Others Are in any detail – to even identify its genre would send us into spoiler territory. It’s a dark and serious tale, full of dread and tension, but does not aim to scare the hell out of its audience. Rather, the unease comes from watching Maggie struggle to escape her toxic marriage, and to hold onto what’s left of herself. Guests who are victims of physical or emotional abuse may find this material difficult, especially given the audience’s role as either a helpless observer or, in some moments, silent enabler. But there is more to the story – more than Maggie or Ben know – and more than guests ought to know going in.
At its core, Where the Others Are is a simple two-handed play, relying almost entirely upon the strength of Melissa Hughes’ script, and the performances of its dual leads. Hughes’ script is absolutely outstanding, with dialogue that perfectly walks a line between realism and fantasy. Even when characters go on long, poetic diatribes, the message is always clear and easy to follow. Each of the characters is rich and interesting, and Hughes does a remarkable job of working in strange moments of sympathy for the villainous Ben. The opening premise – an abuser suddenly gone good – is fascinating and novel. It’s also tastefully political, witnessing Maggie take bold action as our society learns how to confront abuse.
The performance I attended starred Terra Strong Lyons as Maggie and James Cowan (Hunters Grindhouse Experience) as Ben, equally strong in highly demanding roles. Lyons’ frantic energy and fearful eyes drew me to her side in mere seconds. We’re meant to believe her story from the moment we enter the trailer, and Lyons makes it easy – we don’t want to imagine what could have pushed this woman into the state in which we find her. I personally spent more time with Cowan, and found myself taken in by his bizarre but comforting cadence as Ben. His performance brought to mind the effect that so many abusers can have, where an outsider is tempted to think, “Well, he’s always been nice to me.” The two leads have been double cast, with Emily Goss (In Another Room) also playing Maggie and Daniel Van Thomas playing Ben.
The production design is the final piece of the puzzle, and the E3W team (Aaron Keeling, Austin Keeling, and Natalie Jones) has created a beautiful and sad little world in the creaky old Airstream. The trailer feels lived in, and at times cozy, but ultimately suffocating. When Maggie speaks of her freedom, we know in simple terms what she means, and want more for her. It’s one thing to live with an abuser, it’s another to do so in a space like this (not to mention Ben’s head nearly touches the ceiling). The sound and music (by Daniel Tator) is well-executed and ominous, with some great cues synced up to memorable moments. Choreography by Ana Zimhart and Brendan Holmes also adds an intriguing and colorful element to the production.
Where the Others Are is a small show that asks big questions. It offers few answers, and should probably come with a “nihilism warning” – but this is powerful storytelling at close range, and highly recommended. It’s a story we wish no one could relate to, but until that wish is granted, we have works like this to guide us through.
Where the Others Are is currently sold out, but will be extended through April 5th and potentially beyond. Check for tickets here.