Sitting down at the Bootleg Theater for Patricia Scanlon’s new DEATH OF A SALESGIRL one gets a slight anxious feeling that you are patiently waiting to judge a demented middle school science contest. The set is constructed as a diarama, and takes up only one-sixth of the Bootleg’s enormous main stage. Only the fourth wall is open, allowing the audience to peer inside the thoughts, feelings, past, future, and twisted sentiments of our hero at present- Cat, a sales lady trying to get a good night’s rest in a seemingly cheap motel before she begins breaking in a new sales territory.
During the audience entrance this show’s massive conflagration of technical prowess is already at play with projections forcing a psychedelic, altered state upon the classic fleurs-de-lis of the motel’s wallpaper. The nearly seamless integration of mind bending effects leaves this question: will this show be a trip inside of our protagonist’s head, or will it present a twisted, altered look at one’s reality already predisposed to hallucinatory imagery and rife with fears of being overtaken by a conspiracy writ large?
Does dead foliage serve as a tiara atop the proceedings? Is it earth above the cemetery plot that this hotel room stands in for as Scanlon’s story unfolds? Does it even really matter?
No. It does not. Every patron is going to experience SALESGIRL through the lens of their own life experience, and come at it from their own worldview. What is incredibly important is that Scanlon, backed by a solid technical team marshaled to cohesion by director Matthew McCray, and assisted onstage by Paul Dillon and Jeremy Mascia, is asking the right questions in this new production.
Can Cat ever escape the fear and threats of a past full of tragedy, illness, and abuse? Will society accept and embrace her as she attempts to play the game by their rules? More importantly, is it necessary to re-engage with a world that seems too harsh, hectic, and brutal to dig back into? Cat seems to inhabit a living hell where her path to salvation, the sales job she drudges through, foretells death, and each sales sample she carries is a miniature reminder of her own obsolescence and eventual return to the earth.
Scanlon (the writer) likes to take these eternal dilemmas (square peg in round hole-ism) and pretty them up for her audience with a shiny piece of red ribbon. All the while she knowingly acknowledges that there will never be enough ribbon in the world to tip the scales of justice towards equality, nor enough wardrobe and makeup to put Cat and her ilk on a level playing field with the capital W Winners of the world… So instead, she revs up her cavalcade of crazy and lets it loose on the audience, on the world, on the theater scene. And she succeeds.