Freak winds is a comedy so dark that it’s amazing the light touches it at all. The plot is full of twists and turns and is best experienced when you have very little knowledge of what’s going to happen. Therefore, I will be trying to avoid giving too much away, but if you truly wish to avoid any spoilers, I would suggest you avoid both this paragraph and the one that describes the cast. The plot is very good and all the performances are very impressive particularly Winluck Wong and James McCullough who are unlike anything you may have seen them as before. The play begins when Ernest, a seemingly-friendly middle-aged man, finds his peaceful evening interrupted by Henry Crumb, an insurance salesman. However, when a storm forces Crumb to stay in the house, he finds a much darker side to Ernest. The play is clearly inspired, in many ways, by Hitchcock, with an everyman hero finding himself in a situation where he has to deal with a mysterious character that is seemingly benign, but may or may not have a hidden dark side. It’s a bit different because it is much more comical and we know very soon that Ernest isn’t what he appears to be. The comedy is especially well done; at first it seems to be typical of the type of comedy often put on at The Guild, but it soon reveals itself to be much darker. The comedy is actually quite amazing when it comes. For example, early on in the play, when Crumb has discovered Ernest may be a serial killer, Ernest comes into the room and gives him coffee and biscuits. In fact, a lot of the comedy comes from Ernest’s sadistic mind games. This has the curious effect of making a play that is very fun to watch, but also makes the viewer somewhat uncomfortable with how much they enjoy it, particularly in the second half. The exact type of game played also is a bit different between acts as well. In the first half, although exactly what’s happening is not entirely clear, it is much easier to figure out. In the second half, the games become a lot more bizarre as Crumb grows more desperate and his tormenters start to take on a variety of different roles. In my opinion, the first half, with its more concrete threat, is superior. However, I can understand why the play decided to keep upping the stakes in this way, and the second half is still extremely high-quality. The only other major flaw is that sometimes it feels as though Crumb is a bit of a passive character who stands no chance against his tormentors, but even that is realistic since it is unlikely that someone as manipulative as Ernest would choose a victim he believed had a chance of outwitting him.
The set is absolutely fantastic, the best I’ve seen in any guild production. This is on par with a show that I saw at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The Guild regularly has great sets, but because of the small venue, they also usually quite minimalistic. This is not a weakness for many of these plays, since the minimalism often works quite well. However, in this case, it actually feels like we are in someone’s house. There’s wallpaper, a door leading upstairs and even a new door with windows. This makes it feel less like a play and more like the audience has genuinely been invited into this house. This is also probably one of the only plays where that feeling is not a comfortable one.
If you have been to a lot of plays at The Guild, you will most likely have seen most of these actors before – but not like this. Winluck Wong’s character, at first, seems very typical role for him: a charming but somewhat dishonest insurance salesman who flirts with women and makes liberal use of the F-bomb. However, this changes over the course of the play, as he is gradually broken, managing to make his character both very funny but also very pitiable. In many scenes, he looks off into the distance with a look that mixes horror with utter bewilderment. James McCullough is absolutely terrifying in this play. At first he seems to be a very mild mannered and polite (but also somewhat naive) middle-aged man. This image soon breaks down. What really makes his performance terrifying is that he is almost never just playing the charming or the monstrous side of his character. Even in the very early scenes of the play, there are hints of what lies beneath the surface, and even in his worst moments, his affable side will resurface in a way that is both gut-bustingly funny and bowel-freeingly terrifying. The best example of this is in a scene in the first half where Crumb has had enough of his mind games and attacks him. He easily overpowers him and throws him onto the couch, his face a blank mask. “Stay there,” he says, but then his affable side reasserts itself and he makes a joke about one of Crumb’s earlier lines about how insurance makes people calmer. In a lot of scenes, as he begins needling his victim, his face slowly changes from and affable smile to sadistic grin. Rounding out the cast is Charlotte Courage in the role of Myra, a mysterious and extremely odd wheelchair-bound woman who’s true role in the house isn’t clear until the end of the play. Courage does a good job portraying the characters rather Stepfordian sweetness, and also does a good job of convincing the audience that she really does need a wheelchair. However, her role is somewhat hurt by some of the choices likely chosen by the otherwise-stellar director (insert name) which give her less layers to work with than the other two actors. (I should warn you that what I’m about to discuss involves some major spoilers.) I actually read the original script shortly after watching the play and found that there was a lot that suggested Ernest was brainwashing her, however this was not made clear in this version of the play, and by the end it, is clear she is just like Ernest. Unfortunately, the audience has to believe she’s as sweet as she appears for much of the play, so she isn’t given the opportunity to play with the same layers as Ernest, which ends up hurting her performance overall.
Overall this play is very good. It is certainly not the best play The Guild has put on, but it still very good. The play runs for September 26 to October 12. If you want a fun but disturbing play to get you into the mood for Halloween, with unusual performances from familiar actors and unpredictable twists, than I recommend you see this one.