Review: You Can't See "Mother Leeds," But Don't Miss It

Mother Leeds

Presented by No Peeking Theatre at UNDER St. Marks

94 St. Marks Place, Manhattan, NYC

Fri, Feb 21 at 8:50PM; Sun, Feb 23 at 6:50PM; Wed, Feb 26 at 5:30PM; Sun, March 1 at 1:50PM; Fri, March 6 at 8:50PM

Tickets available here

Image courtesy No Peeking Theatre
It might sound like a cliché to say that what you can't see is more frightening than what you can, but Mother Leeds, from innovative artists No Peeking Theatre, demonstrates the truth in the truism. Audiences experience the play blindfolded, immersing them in the world of a very religious family in early 1900s New Jersey. That family is, of course, the family of folklore figure Jane Leeds, whose thirteenth child, local mythology holds, transmogrified into the monstrous creature known as the Jersey Devil and roamed the Pine Barrens. The resulting experience is a creepy and memorable highlight of this year's annual FRIGID Festival.

Before the show proper begins, audience members are Invited to examine the "exhibit" on stage: a table boasting an array of natural and man-made objects—bones, pine cones, a bible, a coping saw, and more (a candle straddles both categories, and it similarly sits on the line between the mundane and sinister). Meanwhile, a young woman kneels in prayer in the back corner of the theater. Sound has long been foregrounded as an element of horror—one thinks of the effective use of the trope of mysterious nighttime sounds from another part of the house in the early episodes of the recent French series Marianne, for example, or, perhaps more apposite here, the decontextualized audio samples from horror films that introduce most songs on the grindcore band Mortician's albums, leaving the listener to imagine what is happening—and once the audience is invited to slip on the blindfolds distributed on the way in, sound too occupies the forefront of Mother Leeds. The play positions audience members as Sam, the twelfth Leeds child, while the talented trio of Jessica Nelson, Alexandra Periera Shorey, and Genevieve Hoeler play the domineering Jane, Sam's brother John, and the thirteenth child, whom Sam finds locked away. The vocal performances are terrific, from Jane's a-bit-too-precise enunciation to the unsettling quality of the outwardly innocent youngest child.
Image courtesy No Peeking Theatre
The inability to see makes one more aware of one's own body, and Mother Leeds takes advantage of this heightened self-awareness by incorporating not only sound but also touch and scent into the production (Amanda Levie serves as the Touch Tech, and Haroon Butt creates the scentscape). The use of touch asks audience members both to consider what the touch may be and also how to react to it, helping to cultivate a feeling of slightly off-balance expectancy. When we discussed the show afterwards, it turned out that one of us was able to recontextualize something that the other thought might have been imagined.

Mother Leeds tells an elegantly spare story of piety, punishment, and captivity culminating in a chillingly effective climax. The experience of that story is unique, enthralling, and not to be missed.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

FRIGID 2020 Reviews on Thinking Theater NYC
Blockbuster Guy
Laser Comedy Show
And the Rope Still Tugging Her Feet
A Southern Fairytale

Other FRIGID 2020 listings on Thinking Theater NYC
The 500 List
Artaud Marat
Artisanal Intelligence
Beneath the Bikini
Cemetery Golf
Closed Circuit
Finding Fellini
Jaxx & Lolo: A Friendship Story
Magnetic Dragons
Nancy Drewinsky and the Search for the Missing Letter
A Southern Fairytale
The Stands
Story Time with Joey Rinaldi
This Feeling


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