THEATER: NASTY, BRUTISH, AND SHORT A QUARTET OF PLAYS ABOUT THE BANALITY OF EVILDOERS
June 17, 2010 By BRENDAN KILEY Publication: The Stranger (Seattle, WA)
There are no good guys. Something called the Tony Awards happened last weekend, but nobody gave a rip besides producers worried about their pocketbooks, industry people worried about their jobs, and 13-year-olds—and their mental equivalents—who fancy Glee. Why not? Because Broadway is a boneyard of the imagination. Wasn't always that way. Won't always be that way (one hopes). But it is now, and if the Tony Awards want to stay relevant and convince people that theater is anything more than a 90-year-old in a halter top wearing 3,000 pounds of makeup, they should haul their asses off the Great Blight Way and start rewarding the best work wherever it's produced. Memphis, which had a pre-Broadway run at the 5th Avenue in Seattle, won some things. But in approximately five minutes, nobody—including the composer—will be able to hum a single bar from the thing. Liquid Morality, a quartet of grisly short plays by Ron Simonian, won't win any Tony Awards, but it has a few moments that will lodge themselves in your skull. The first few lines of At the Feet of Doves, for instance, with three men on stage: one prone, one standing gape-mouthed, and the other grimacing with a shovel in his hand: "Holy shit, that was brutal," says the gape-mouthed man. "I thought he would never shut up," says the shovel man. "Jesus. Get off my back." "Why a shovel to the face? What the fuck?" "Because his face was where the sound was coming from." The two conscious guys are hit men who talk about their feelings, professionalism, how kids these days ain't got no respect—a direct extension of the conversations John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson had in Pulp Fiction. (Pulp Fiction came out in 1994; Doves was written in 1997.) Simonian aspires to write like a combination of Quentin Tarantino, David Mamet, and O. Henry. He likes hit men and perverse situations and short, staccato sentences with lots of cursing—but he also likes to wedge sitcom-type, pop-psychology "processing" into otherwise horrendous situations. (A couple in Sixteen Counting Claire, for example, talks about their therapy sessions while their unwitting young victim bathes before she is to be carved up for their sexual pleasure.) And Simonian likes a twist at the end. Another play, The Sting of Love, takes place on a police bus where johns are being rounded up and arrested for solicitation. It begins with this line: "Then boom! She throws up on my cock." It ends—still on the police bus—with a wedding proposal. Liquid Morality is a small-scale Equity project and has pulled some quality career actors who both act and direct: Jim Gall, Eric Ray Anderson, Kelly Kitchens, Tim Hyland, and a few others. They're obviously having fun with fun material, even when it dives into formulaic stultification. The formula: shocking opening line, exposition, lighthearted banter about taboo subject, wading around in the emotional shallows, climax, wry and/or surprise conclusion. It's not a bad formula (a sort of B-movie/ Aristotelian arc) and it's diverting enough: just short and bittersweet squibs about the banality of evildoers.