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An Idyllic Getaway Proves Anything But in 'Sienna's Mantram'

This dramatic new short play takes the stage at FRIGID New York.

What could possibly disturb a perfect meditation getaway in the vast Mojave Desert? A film crew shooting a Lawrence of Arabia remake, for one. And the remains of former military testing in the area, including residual radiation and still-active landmines. And brainwashing cults, UFOs, dumping nuclear waste and a network of tunnels that could possibly house another humanoid species. And those are just the things we suspect.

Sienna's Mantram, or (a change of pace at China Lake) by Zach Stephens is an exercise in just how far unchecked paranoia can take you and the terror of possibly being proven right. This comedy of horrors is part of the annual FRIGID New York Festival at the Kraine Theater, which presents innovative new plays that are all under an hour, and anything else goes. This production, directed by Kelly Webb, feels more like the sketch of what may become a much larger piece than a complete performance; with its slow pacing in the opening scenes, this show needs to be about three times as long to truly capture the growing sense of horror and paranoia it creates.

That being said, Sienna's Mantram has some compelling components. The actors toe the line expertly when it comes to parody, capturing the absurdity of SoCal millennials and creating great humor in the piling on of conspiracy theories. The first two scenes present in-depth and entertaining character work for all five actors, and the energy that Stefanie Flamm, Zach Stephens, Amanda Barlow, James Arthur and Elizabeth Taylor bring to their roles makes even watching the group meditate amusing.

Other promising building blocks to this horror show include a fantastically creepy recorded voice that provides meditation instructions, the only bed and breakfast employee the guests ever encounter, and the guests' inability to remember any of the suspicious things they have seen at the resort until directly referenced in conversation. Still, the internal inconsistencies in the conspiracy theories ultimately prove too much to bear, leaving audiences wondering how there can be both nuclear waste and another species living underground at the same time. The plot line of who is responsible for Gabriel's father's death is never resolved, and too many of the characters' fears and questions could be easily answered just by stepping outside.

Why don't they just leave? A successful horror plot needs to make us believe that escape is impossible, and Sienna's Mantram has not yet achieved that feat. Nonetheless, Sienna's Mantram, or (a change of pace at China Lake) is an entertaining evening out, and an inventive mix of comedy and horror that has the potential to become a great piece of theater.

Sienna's Mantram plays at the Kraine Theater through March 5.

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