Elizabeth Chasse-King, Emily Grotz, Gusta Johnson, Linda Shary, Collin Young and Tom Handel in “Omniphobia” at Snowlion Rep. Photo by Craig Robinson

“You never know,” says one character to another in the latest world-premiere production from the Snowlion Repertory Company. “That’s just it,” says the other. And so begins the one-act play’s journey through the labyrinth of anxiety and fear.

“Omniphobia,” written and directed by Al D’Andrea, is a “multi-media collective creation” that employs a variety of theatrical styles in looking at what makes people cringe. It hits a lot of bases in its 80 or so minutes, but its overall message, that our fears are many and strong but can perhaps be, if not eliminated, at least held at a somewhat relaxing bay, is welcome.

The one-act play takes off from the story of the many fears of a character named Emily to imaginatively explore its subject through dramatic and comedic vignettes performed by a total of eight actors. Video images at the sides of the stage alternately contextualize scenes and offer pithy quotations on the subject from figures such as Plato and Martin Luther King Jr. Poetic interludes address the intellectual quandaries that arise from circumstances seemingly becoming beyond our control.

Emily (Gusta Johnson), a harried college professor whose mother is dying, is overwhelmed by life. Every situation she faces, from campus confrontations to congressional inquiries, leaves her confused and fraught. She seeks help through religion and medication while also trying to beef up her security with weapons. Along the way, she encounters a raft of characters who may seem to offer help, but mostly don’t.

Scenes range from straightforward family drama to playground political arguments. A “fear-conditioning” excursion to a mall, theater and public park, along with some rather off-the-wall commedia-style fairy tales, drew big laughs. Choruses of screaming and/or whimpering characters added a visceral element.

The performers, in addition to Johnson, included Linda Shary, Emily Grotz, Elizabeth Chasse-King, Bob Pettee, Tom Handel, Ashanti Williams and Collin Young. All undertook multiple roles in a show well-choreographed to move quickly through the 11 listed scenes.

The props, moved about by the actors, were basic settings of tables and chairs and a few other things. The costumes by Britney Cacace were mostly simple, one color togs that allowed for the quick changes required. Those for the Chicken Little segment were a highlight.

A talk-back segment after the show with Dr. James McElligott reaffirmed the play’s point that there are many different types of feelings contained within what we generally call fear and that there are as many ways to try to come to terms with it. Through this scarily entertaining piece of theater art, Snowlion has made a worthwhile contribution.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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