Thursday, April 17, 2014

Taste by Benjamin Brand

L - R Donal Thoms-Cappello, Chris L. McKenna - Photos:  Jessica Sherman Photography

By Joe Straw

Warning:  Due to strong sexual content and imagery, no one under the age of 18 will be admitted.

Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello) stood at the kitchen island chopping a white onion meticulously, if not for a hell-bent purpose.  Slowly, he bows to capture the soupçon of the onion, letting the evaporated swirling scent lubricated his eyes if only to enjoy the painful irritation of the floating aroma. 

Finished, Terry takes his knife and forces the fragmented pieces into the frying pan, and as the onion aromatically sears in the heat, he dismisses the pieces, rather absent mindlessly, while he attends to the other matters at hand.

A seasoned professional, with epicurean tastes, Terry flits effortlessly like a dancer from one task to the next. Everything must be perfect, including having the proper red wine to accompany the red meat that will eventually find entrance into his sensitive somatosensory organ, the mouth. 

And in this atmosphere of wafting scents, Terry lights the candles in his upscale apartment.  He knows that candles will project that extra warm glow on scrumptious stark-naked skin.  And he sets up the video camera to capture that radiance for the events of the night, just for prosperity, and for his aberrant sexual gratification.

The appetizers have been prepared so delicately, next will be the embellishment for the crabcakes after the guest arrives, and voilá, on to the entrée.

The Sacred Fools Theater Company, The Schramm Group LLC, and Red Hen Production presents Taste a new play by Benjamin Brand and directed by Stuart Gordon.  This world premier plays through May 17, 2014.

Taste by Benjamin Brand is a carefully crafted and wonderfully executed play.  It is dramatically intense, delightfully horrific, and sometimes tongue in cheek recreation of actual events told by the master of the macabre storyteller Stuart Gordon.  Anyone who likes to eat and have physical relationships, not necessarily in that order, will enjoy this twistedly, intense, and horrific thrill ride.  

And in the same vein: I have never been to a live theatre attraction where the audience screamed in unison as we all watched the terror unfold on stage.  The shrieks were deafening, hands over the mouth, and heads turned uncomfortably in innumerable directions. If horror, blood, and intense sexual dramatic situations are your cup of tea, run, by all means, run to see this production!

“Sorry, I’m late.” – Vic

Listening to the timorous voice on the speaker, Terry buzzes his guest Vic (Chris L. McKenna) into his building.  Having only a few moments before Vic walks through the door, Terry turns off the haunting music, and adjusts the video camera to capture their first encounter.

Like cattle, before the slaughter, Vic enters with attenuated body and takes measured steps into Terry’s apartment.  Vic eyes the surroundings, the view of hundreds of apartments from the windows, and the slab-like concrete floor. (Blood won’t be much of a problem.)

Terry happily takes Vic’s coat, offers him vodka, and directs him into the living room near the coffee table with the photographs.  

“You don’t look like your photos.” – Terry

Vic, taking the vodka, grimaces as he gulps each drink.  He explains the difference saying he likes getting haircuts, and having the feel of someone else’s hands in his head. Hmm. At this point he takes another gulp to deaden his senses and moves uncomfortably close to Terry. 

Now each one is in each other’s space for different reasons.  And in that moment, nose to nose, it’s not really clear if Terry views Vic as a possible sexual conquest, or someone who is looking at a gorgeous piece of meat.  Still he thinks about the night and obliquely prowls his future meal until the onions, left on the stove, starts to caramelize.

“I can’t eat onions, garlic either.” – Vic

Another spoiler.  How can you devour a man on an empty stomach?  No matter Terry has more than enough food to feed this man until the job of the night is done.

But Vic is having problems with everything Terry has prepared.  Plans, carefully crafted, are not working out for either man. 

The solution?  Terry cuittles him to reaffirm what they are both here for, what they have already discussed.  Terry flutters over to the computer and asks Vic for a favor.

“Let’s read our chats.” – Terry

Vic sits but is very uncomfortable with his line readings.  No matter Terry says he has a gift and runs to the kitchen island to pull out a present, a large bottle of cough medicine that Vic opens and inhales in one lugubrious sickening slug.

All this to settle Vic’s nerves, to calm his craven terror, and to wait for the inevitable that must come this night. For this is the night, he has to “feel connected”, to be real, to feel the role.  But things on this night do not go as intended and events sway in other directions.  Which only makes for a glorious night of conflict.

This is only a small taste of the show and of my observations. Both actors are incredibly talented.  Each heart stopping moment is layered with so much life there is literally thousands of way to interpret a single theatrical moment.  

L - R Chris L. McKenna, Donal Thoms-Cappello - Photos:  Jessica Sherman Photography

Donal Thoms-Cappello is delightfully devilish as Terry.  Terry is so meticulous in his methodology of the night, he has everything planned out, and he hopes the night is laid as he has planned.  Unfortunately, things never go as prearranged which gives us a glimpse of the other man, the Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, who is much more aggressive and serious minded. But, is it love?  Thoms-Cappello physical appearance is of a character that stepped out of a ‘50’s horror film, and into this apartment, the saccharine smile used to calm things, when inside he is thinking other thoughts.  And although he smiles at giving a lesson at cutting parsley, inside he is being torn apart by his companion’s inadequacies, both mentally and physically. The fascinating part of the character, which thinks so highly of himself, is that he has “unique” bookmarked in his dictionary. Thoms-Capello is outstanding in the role and his performance is one not to miss!

Chis L. McKenna is marvelous as Vic, a man who is at the end of his rope.  His time is ending for reasons not entirely known (to the audience).  But, if he is going out, he wants to go out on his terms. McKenna brings a grand physical and emotional life to the character of Vic.  McKenna is extremely funny in a performance that one would think the opposite given the circumstances of his end, but the opposite holds true and it is a testament to his magnificently polished craft. There are no limitations to this role and this is a no-holds-bar performance for McKenna who puts everything out there, only a few feet in front of you, live on stage.

Pete Caslavka and Yuri Lowenthal are understudies for Terry and Vic respectively but did not perform on this night. 

Stuart Gordon, the director, does some amazing work.  Each moment is carefully laid out and it is almost impossible to predict what is going to happen next.  Every instant worked to near perfection. In his craft, Gordon gives us a delightful mixture of humor, horror, and sex as the events of the night play out to a wonderful dramatic conclusion. Gordon eases you into the horror. The moments are like a knife, entering bit by bit, until the time comes when the knife is forced in and suddenly twisted.  The thrill is the slow anticipation culminating into the ultimate unspeakable horrors.  And when that subsides he places the horror a few feet away from you. “Pokey” is the term someone describes it when it is right up in your face.  But in this case, (without giving this away) it is without the poke. I have two thoughts. The presentation of the knives could have been more elaborate.  And secondly the ending, taking that dramatic leap to blackout, ending on a very high note rather than one that plays to our sympathies.  

Benjamin Brand has fashioned his play on actual events and the events played, out on stage, worked dramatically.  Brand invites us into Terry’s home, gives us the full layout, and says little about the Vic (tim) his life, his work, and his relationships.  He is the meal. But, he is also a human with values and a heart who wants to know that Terry is being honest with him. All of this plays out wonderfully. Taste is an actor’s wonderland and logistically a director’s nightmare that somehow came together to give us a wonderful night of theatre.

This is a huge production Produced by Ben Rock, Jenelle Riley, Dean Schramm, Adam Goldworm & Stuart Gordon and with production values that you will not see in venues of the same size.

Set Designer DeAnne Millais did an extraordinary job on the set.

Matt Richter was the Lighting Designer worked effectively but didn’t see a lot of changes on the lighting of this stage, or ways in which the lighting changed the mood.

Jennifer Christina Smith was the Costume Designer.  

Tony Doublin was responsible for the Special Effects and Gabe Bartalos the Special Makeup Effects.  I’m not sure how they did it or where all the blood came from but it worked marvelously on stage.

Other members of this outstanding crew are as follows:

Stage Manager – Megan Crockett
Assistant Director – Ben Rock
Lead Scenic Painter – Maria Bjorkdahl
Prop Designer – Emily Donn
Fight Director – Mike Mahaffey
Marketing Associate – Bob DeRosa
Lead Builder – Dante Carr
Builders – Dominic Rains, Carlos Juarez, Colin Green, Andrew Ferrer, Luke Rhoades, Andrew Amani, Joshua Benton & Aaron Francis
Set Crew – Jaime Andrews, Zachary Bernstein, Corey Klemow, Will McMichael, Tifanie McQueen, Lisa Anne Nicolai, Bart Tangredi, Yonie Wela & Danny White
Laundry Crew – Trey Perkins (There’s a lot of blood to clean up.)
Sound, Video & Light Operator – Megan Crockett
Publicity Photographer – Jessica Sherman Photography
Graphic Designer – Johnny Mejia

The cleanup each night must be a monumental task and my hat off to all that participate.

Run!  Run!  Run!  And take someone you would like to have over for a meal.

Ninety minutes – No Intermission.

Reservations:  310-281-8337

No comments:

Post a Comment