Friday, January 29, 2010

Teaser Cow

Photo/Amanda Culp

If there's anything Clay MacLeod Chapman should have learned from researching the horrible deeds of the fast-food and livestock industries (to say nothing of the theatrical industry), it's that you can't rush it. Using a teaser cow's artificial vagina to capture prime bull semen may seem like a good idea at the time (well, an efficient idea), but in actuality, it's just a way for everyone to get fucked faster. That's what's happened here with Chapman's collaboration with the Greek-centric company One Year Lease: he's rushed to turn Crete into a corporation, and in doing so, has compromised much of his uniquely descriptive and subtle flavors.

While some of his monologues still work--particularly those focused on Minos (Gregory Waller), his wife, Pasiphae (Sarah-Jane Casey) and daughter, Ariadne (Christina Bennett Lind)--everything seems so explicit and exaggerated that it loses the texture that made it unique in the first place. It makes little sense for Daedalus (Nick Flint) to break into a song-and-dance explanation of the steroidal raising (some might say razing) of cows, and less for Theseus (Danny Bernardy) to abruptly shift from awkwardly feeling up Ariadne to turning her half-brother, the minotaur, into a pinata, save that the plot must go on. Jim Kane does a fine job as the disgruntled mascot, the Royal "We," but is far too tangential, whereas the Midwife, crucial to the plot, is masked by Babis Gousias's thick accent. Worse, though James Hunting has provided Teaser Cow with a wonderfully cruel kitchen set--cold, industrial steel and laughably "sterile" whites--director Ianthe Demos often obscures it with a scrim, or symbolic lighting, each time taking things further from the solid conditions that Chapman, and this play, work best under.

Thankfully, the central concept is largely untouched, largely on account of its cleverness: "We treat our meat like family!" proclaims Minos, but the way in which he and Ariadne shun the meat that is part of their family (the Minotaur) makes it clear that that's a less than sterling guarantee. "If you're ever wondering whether or not you were a product of love," he says, "I would have to say a product? Yes, most definitely. Of love? Maybe you should save that question for your siblings." The Minotaur's mother "loves" him so much that she needs to drink herself silly ("When you were little, you always loved it when I stood over your cradle, holding an empty gin and tonic in my hand") and his sister "loves" him to the point that "I would press that teddy bear against your face a little longer each evening, seeing just how long I could hold it there before compassion overcame me." (The midwife, too, tries to kill the Minotaur, as a kindness.) Cruelties, inflicted with the most mundane of objects, are the secret weapons of Chapman's arsenal, and there's nothing stronger than scenes in which Pasiphae explains the seismic pain of giving birth to a half-bull child, or cleverer than when Ariadne, desperate to be liked by her peers, goes cow-tipping, only to get stranded in a "living labyrinth of cattle."

Plenty of good ideas and good actors have been herded together in the making of Teaser Cow, but ultimately, beyond the scattershot presentation and crammed-together approach, what's missing is that industry catchword: synergy. You just can't mock industrial productions without it.

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