These days, its nearly impossible for a live performer to make his audience shudder. The average viewers senses have been deadened by overexposure to all manner of stimuli: special effects, shoot-em-up scenes galore in all the summers big-budget blockbusters. And yet, with Deviants, the spunky, young members of Live Action Set, along with their director Robert Rosen (a co-founder of Theatre de la Jeune Lune), are quite successful at making audiences squirm in their seats. In fact, this quiet, dimly lit show is the creepiest theater performance Ive ever seen.
Its worth knowing that the show was loosely inspired by Charles Carl Roberts the man behind the 2006 shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. Roberts had previously written about his interest in molesting young children, although theres no evidence he ever succumbed to those desires. In any case, Roberts story got these artists thinking about what it's like inside the minds of those who suffer uncontrollable, wholly inappropriate urges.
In the beginning, four characters compete for their moments in a roving spotlight. Each is desperate to be the center of attention, to vent about their fetishes. What starts as an amusing scene, with characters shoving one another and then quickly blurting outrageous confessions, quickly evolves into something else, something feral: to get their moments in the sun, each begins to kick, bite, and tackle the others. At times, it looks as though theyll collide with members of the audience seated in the front row.
Thats not to say the show is without humor: Noah Bremers characteran apparent milkmanhas an unhealthy affinity for his product; he chugs liters of milk and even bathes himself in the creamy substance. In another scene, each of the characters freaks out at the sight of a banana; evidently, the phallic banana is a deviants best friend.
And yet, almost nothing about the show is crassly sexual. Sure, a pervert or two is portrayed, the artists renderings of them are usually nuanced or, at the very least, greatly restrained. There is also a character, played by Bremer, who wrestles with violent urges. But, as a matter of fact, the scariest character of all is played by Megan Odell: a sweet, fresh-faced blonde afflicted with an obsession for food. It appears she enjoys stuffing it into fat people. In a frightful aside, this character muses that her mother was beautiful with a knife. Odell is truly terrifying to behold, whether she's dissecting the banana she eventually takes hostage or chopping a vegetable with an axe.
What I like best about this show are the quiet, visually gripping ways in which these frightening stories are told. In one poignant sequence, a vixen (Vanessa Voskuil) beats Galen Treuers character then, when he's unconscious, she switches gears: she dances with his apparently lifeless form and then attempts to nurse him back to health. Bremers murderous milkman, on the other hand, cradles Treuers unconscious body over a tub before gently christening him with the white stuff.
In Deviants, the venue is a critically important character in its own right. At night, the Soap Factory becomes dark and cavernous. The undeveloped space has high, vaulted ceilings in which halogen lights swing bare on their black chords, casting beautiful but unearthly shadows onto the characters faces and all about the room. The troupe has artfully created a self-contained, basement-like universe thats effectively tucked away from the normal, socially acceptable behaviors of our daylight existences. Frankly, as disturbed as I was in this place, these sick but interesting characters were what consistently riveted my attention; I couldn't take my eyes off of them. And I havent been able to stop thinking about them ever since.
About the writer: Christy DeSmith is a former editor at The Rake. She is also a freelance theater critic and was recently named an affiliated writer for 2007-08 by the Theatre Communications Group and American Theatre magazine.
What: Deviants presented by Live Action Set
Where: The Soap Factory, Minneapolis, MN
When: August 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10 (click here for specific performance times)
Admission: $12 (plus a $3 Fringe button)
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