Rarely if ever have dread and delight merged like they do in Lindsay Beamish and Amanda Vitiello’s “Wigs.” The piece, part drama, part dance, part performance art, presented as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, doesn’t swing back and forth between gloom and glee, but manages to blend them into a single feeling throughout its too-short hour.
The dread is embodied by a tiny area, cordoned off by a curtain that looks like a child’s sheet, which invisibly serves as both offstage and the center of the lives of the characters, girls played by Beamish and Vitiello (contradictions are everywhere in “Wigs”). From there emanates the voice of a man we never see, playfully played by the two women alternately in mock-deep voice, who has, we come to understand, abducted them both and held them hostage.
They have been here long enough that their ties to the outside world have begun to fray, but not so long that their memories don’t still hold them. He leads them through drills like a football coach, involving the constant switching of the titular wigs, which are clearly his fetish but also act as the toys, the pets, and the children, of the two girls who have little else.
They are adults playing girls who are far younger, but we never learn their exact ages, and it is strangely irrelevant in this space — a world where they are required to embody all of femaleness all at once.
“Wigs” obviously owes something to Emma Donoghue’s novel “Room” and its subsequent film, but it’s doing something very different. In “Room,” a mother was forced to build a world for her son. Here, the girls are trying to maintain the existence of their own outside world, by constantly invoking its anchors and markers, its sayings and slogans. Beamish and Vitiello both in less than an hour establish a pair of unforgettable and unmistakable characters, and an utterly real relationship — the kind of arranged-marriage friendship children are often forced into, though usually not so brutally.
The pair’s favorite daily ritual is “dance time,” a tightly choreographed routine to Sia and Flo Rida’s “Wild One,” a song Beamish and Vitiello used to start the writing-by-improv process that birthed the show. Its repeated performances throughout the hour allow us to join them in a moment of sweet escape, even as plans of their actual escape give us — and them — stomach-stirring anxiety. Like the entire show, it’s a graceful and artful synthesis that should not be missed.