Monday, February 01, 2010

A Brief History of Murder: Victims

There are a great deal of talented people involved in the Sneaky Snake Productions. There are also--joyously--a lot of nerds, who revel in making niche shows, like last year's riotous Adventure Quest, a spot-on send-up of classic text-based PC games. But Richard Lovejoy bites off way too much in his bloody latest, A Brief History of Murder, a David Lynch-does-Ragnarok "comedy," which misses the best of both those worlds. Understanding Ragnarok requires a few courses in Norse mythology, and understanding Lynch--if that's possible--requires the ability to watch, rewatch, and follow frame-by-frame. A Brief History of Murder tries, splitting itself up into two stand-alone yet supposedly complementary parts ("Victims" and "Detectives," of which I saw the former), and its program is filled with the lore of Sentinel, Oklahoma (where the show takes place), but all this makes the play more work than pleasure. It's too epic for the stage--and that's assuming it's even any good. (In this medium, it is most certainly not.)

Over almost two hours, Victims attempts to follow twenty characters, and even though many of them die quickly (and terrifically, thanks to Laura Moss's gory effects), that doesn't make us care for the survivors any more. (And it certainly doesn't make us feel bad for the deceased.) The most charismatic of the actors draw our interest, like Darlene Violette's portrayal of the unapologetically racist baker Holly Castle, but no matter how much you multiply a zero-sum role, it still leaves you with nothing. Timothy McCown Reynolds makes a creepy Fenrus, sniffing everyone and acting all mysterious, but though you might believe him, you don't believe in what he's doing. Other characters, like the two Blues, Jean and Gene (Shelia Joon and Salvatore Brienik) demonstrate what happens when the actors fail to sufficiently inflate a role, and David Arthur Bachrach--the batshit demonic mayor--shows how to go too far, though that's more the fault of the director, Ivanna Cullinan.

One of the many throwaway lines in Victims goes something like this: "You know who's a hack? Stephen King. And Faulkner. Fuck those guys." I can understand Lovejoy shitting on the highbrow, but it makes little sense to denigrate King--even his worst TV movies made about as much sense as this production. And considering all the sex-crazed corpses, bloody victims, and puke-spewing rookies, there are worse people to pay homage to than King. (A similar company, Nosedive Productions, has done just that. Vampire Cowboys Theater regularly does high-octane genre work without losing the narrative.) There are some good moments in A Brief History of Murder, but when plots are abandoned as quickly as they're started, you can only recognize them in retrospect, when there's the risk that they're only comparatively good. For instance, there's a terrifically awkward scene between photographer Richard Summers (Kent Meister) and his lone-gunman subject, Roland (Adam Swiderski), as they swap secrets. But is it only good given how bad Meister's eventual breakdown on a phone-sex hotline, or because it's the only scene in which Swiderski isn't just posturing as a tough Russian?

More is not always merrier, and given how good Lovejoy can be when he's pared down to a specific mood, story, and rhythm, one hopes that the next Sneaky Snake production is, in fact, a bit more brief.

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