Don’t Expect Any Warm Fuzzies As “Cuddles” Creeps Us Out At SATE

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Ellie Schwetye stands over Rachel Tibbets in the SATE production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble is known for just that- plays that are often slightly askew- off the beaten path of traditional fare. With “Cuddles,” the opening play of their Season of Adaptation, they manage to provide cringe-worthy status to that word. With two excellent actresses and one superb director, it somehow makes you want to give them all big hugs anyway.

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Rachel Tibbets agonizes over her sister’s absence while Ellie Schwetye talks with her new boyfriend in the downstairs parlor in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

It starts with a creepy, smoke-filled set designed by the incredible Bess Moynihan (who also provides magic with the lighting design). Newspapers hanging behind and in front of a makeshift bed given a fourposter look with acting areas of both sides of it, and the eerie and, at times, provocative music by director Joe Hanrahan, lets you know you’re in for a treat. Then a figure appears rising from the bed and, as she pulls off the thin muslin-like material, we see  Rachel Tibbets (one of the original founding members of SATE) as the mysterious and ethereal Eve as she begins a “once upon a time” story that sends chills down your spine.

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Rachel Tibbets makes an eerie first appearance in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

We soon learn that she is the “monster” younger sister she describes in this off beat fairy tale and we soon meet her older sister, Tabby, in a wonderful, almost bi-polar performance by Ellie Schwetye. Eve is obviously suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome as Tabitha has convinced her that she is a vampire and must stay hidden in her room. Not only does she have a pot to pee in- she also has a separate pot to poop in and she often gets them mixed up much to the chagrin of her older sister. Eve loves her sister but when she suggests she go outside, she goes ballistic knowing that only three things kill a vampire- sunlight, beheading and hammering a stake through the heart.

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The sisters try to resolve their differences in the Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

Problems arise (as if these weren’t problems enough) when Tabby finds a man she’s interested in and must solve her dilemma of “caregiving” Eve. The love between the sisters is obvious despite the unorthodox way of life Tabby has carved out for them and it may take one level, two level or maybe five level cuddles to get them through it. You’ll understand better when you see the bizarre “Cuddles” by English playwright Joseph Wilde. It’s sprinkled with humor- dark and otherwise and the most unconventional story you’re likely to see this side of Halloween (just a few days late for that holiday). But, like the earlier SATE hit, “Mary Shelley Monster Show,” Mother Nature provided some special effects on opening night that enhanced an already scarily perfect show.

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Rachel Tibbets expresses her feelings to Ellie Schwetye in “Cuddles” at SATE. Photo: Joey Rumpell

Director Joe Hanrahan, a superb actor as well, has paced this production with knife-edged skill. He cuts through a script that may be a bit wordier than needed and brings every chilling moment to frightening and realistic life.With Rachel Tibbets and Ellie Schwetye as the only two performers, it really showed how much these two actresses have grown into top notch performers. Playing two completely different characters- one skittish and dominated and one authoritarian and cold, they played off each other beautifully and, in a city with a ton of acting talent, they have proven to be right up there with the best.

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Part of the spellbinding opening sequence featuring Rachel Tibbets in the SATE production of “Cuddles.” Photo: Joey Rumpell

SATE Ensemble Theatre has given us another scare for this very special season and they show how diverse they are from any other company working today. Original or adapted classics come to spectacular life in their hands. “Cuddles” plays at the Chapel through November 12th. Contact them at 314-827-5760 or at slightlyoff.org for more information or for tickets.

 

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