Writer-director Aaron Mark has quickly established himself as one of New York City’s premier purveyors of intense, haunting one-person dramas, and his latest showcases Alison Fraser in the psychological horror tale Squeamish, which opened last night at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row. In 2013, Mark shocked audiences with the sensational Another Medea, boasting a bravado performance by Tom Hewitt, followed in 2015 by Daphne Rubin-Vega in Empanada Loca; now two-time Tony nominee Fraser is creepily good in his latest production as Sharon, a fiftysomething single therapist who is more than a bit on edge. The show begins as Sharon has unexpectedly dropped in on her longtime psychiatrist, whom she has not seen since she went off her meds five months earlier. She starts talking nonstop, revealing that she’s now the same age as her mother was when she committed suicide — “an emotionally abusive quasi-religious world-class narcissist alcoholic chain-smoker who completely drains your soul and yet somehow remains one of the smartest, most compelling people on the planet” — and that she’s just returned from her hometown of Lubbock, Texas, where her nephew, Eddie, has also just killed himself. “I need you to know, I would never — never in a million years would I just descend on you at home, in the middle of the night like this, unannounced, if I hadn’t been — absolutely desperate. And — scared. Genuinely scared. That I’d . . . I really might’ve done something. To myself. Or to . . . someone. I don’t know,” Sharon says, wriggling in a comfortable, old-fashioned armchair, occasionally sipping from a black coffee mug, the lamp on a small nightstand next to her providing the only light on Sarah Johnston’s dark, eerie set.
Over the course of ninety-five gripping minutes, Sharon tells her bizarre story, which involves delving into her addictions and sobriety, exploring her recurring nightmares about needles, commenting on the sorry state of the world, and regularly referencing blood, in all its many forms and meanings. “I can’t take the sight of blood,” she admits. “I’m so squeamish, I’ll throw up, or pass out, or both, but I can’t look away.” The audience can’t look away either as Fraser (The Secret Garden, Romance/Romance), in a sexy black outfit, gracefully shifts in the big chair, crossing and uncrossing her legs, leaning forward, then pushing herself into a corner, with just enough movement to avoid any boredom, on her or our part, words pouring out of her with rhythmic starts and stops, almost like, well, blood splurting. Fraser seamlessly transitions from Sharon to her sister, Becky; Becky’s husband, Burt; Eddie’s girlfriend, Cara; Cara’s friends, Joanie and Dante; and a dominatrix, Betty, cleverly using voice and limited motion to define each character’s uniqueness. There is a shocking surprise about midway through the play that is genuinely scary, and things build from there. Although there is no blood onstage, Mark and Fraser do an exquisite job of intricately describing scenes that might lead some audience members to experience bloody nightmares, but that’s a small price to pay for witnessing this engrossing piece of theater. (Mark wrote the part specifically for Fraser; he also wrote and directed the 2012 film Commentary, starring Fraser and Hewitt.) A production of All for One Theater, Squeamish lives up to its name, offering plenty of squeamish moments, highlighted by a superbly nuanced performance by Fraser, who seems to be enjoying every bloody minute of it, along with us.