James Mannion’s new play Mites is a shape-shifter. It begins on an absurdist register but gradually disrobes itself, shifting towards what it takes to be hard-hitting reality.
Its initial cast of characters come together in a warmly lit, white-soaked, and dusty living room: Ruth (an exaggeration-prone Claire Marie Hall) is an isolated, nervous woman who has been abandoned by her husband. Her only companion is an anthropomorphised cat named Bartholomew (Richard Henderson, brilliantly wry), who styles himself as an intellectual. And then there is the pest controller Ken (George Howard), a greedy fraud who tricks Ruth into believing that he is her long-gone husband.
In a series of far-fetched and mildly comic scenes, this bizarre trio engage in territorial fights over questions of inheritance, identity, and memory. Yet, as the play’s labyrinthine structure rears its head and some ludicrous reveals kick in, Mannion’s characters enter a frustratingly unsophisticated territory.
With its mistimed transitions and tonal irregularities, Marcus Marsh’s direction further blurs a play whose stylistic swings remain half-baked. Despite Cecilia Trono’s agile set design, these surreal scenes—including one with a family of mites—do not cohere into an organic whole. This makes for a self-consciously strange evening.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Mites is its frivolous treatment of mental illness and domestic abuse. Though the ending adopts the posture of a feminist triumph, the production fails to depict Ruth’s troubled inner world without succumbing to caricature.