Sunday, May 27, 2007

PLAY: "The Eaten Heart"

The Eaten Heart, a flawless work of theater performed by The Debate Society, takes place in the Motel "Decameron," a modern version of Boccaccio's epic collection of bawdy allegory. Here, the action takes place in a series of three parallel motel rooms (only the central one is fully exposed), and presents only glimpses of a wide range of characters. But those glimpses, handled by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, are so nuanced (and yet so subtle) that the entire evening is rich with the effect of many lives fully lived. Bos can go from being a raging temptress to a coy loner or a panic-struck singer, often in the same breath. Thureen, a perfect match, turns awkward into quietly sadistic and feeble into gleefully daft, as much satyr as saturnine.

The show only runs an hour, but that time gives us everything from a magician's panic-stricken collapse to a married woman's brief and childlike encounter with the pizza-delivery guy. The absurd is refined by the unsettling jocularity of a man who thinks the voodoo underwear he's wearing makes him invisible; the grotesque is present in a potted plant with some very special soil; the humanity in the brief connection between a pot-smoking sexpot and a mute repairman.

Impressive as these lives in miniature are, the technical precision of this show is what sets it apart. Director Oliver Butler's inventive ability prevails across the entire show, along with that of Amanda Rehbein's conjoined motel rooms, Mike Riggs' thunderstorm-creating lighting design, Sydney Maresca's thousand-and-one costumes, and Nathan Leigh's illusion-creating ("slight-of-ear") sound effects. Along with the outstanding cast, the show continually defies our expectations of the space, and is then able to suckerpunch us by defying our expectations of the characters.

By the time the show ended, I had by no means had my fill of The Eaten Heart: every segment was fresh and filled with theatrical magic. From the expert use of silence to the genius of overlapping two disparate strangers from different times in the same room at the same time, Butler has already found the way to transmute the mundane into the seductive. Such theatrical alchemy has turned The Eaten Heart to gold; indulge it now while you still can.

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