LOVE AND HUMAN REMAINS in Baltimore
There are many ways to dramatize the alienation of the modern man and woman. In Love and Human Remains, Brad Fraser entangles seven lost souls in a web of sex, deceit, and repression, pitting the forces of cynicism and despair against each character’s desperate need to be loved. This aspect of the play works beautifully, yet Fraser has even blacker webs to spin: A serial killer also lurks in the shadows, and each morning reveals another body raped and mutilated. (When the play premiered in 1989, it was titled Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love.) But surely a slew of horrible crimes is not necessary to expose empty lives, and the device ultimately distracts more than it illuminates.
Even so, the play has many more virtues than flaws, and anyone who sees the excellent new production by Iron Crow Theatre Company, among the more recent arrivals to the Baltimore theatre scene, will likely come away impressed. Though Fraser set his play in Edmonton, Alberta, he encourages locally specific adaptations, and so director Joseph Ritsch has transplanted Love to row houses in Charles Village; characters devour Maxie’s pizza and spend their nights at Club Hippo and the Brewer’s Art. This is actually a fascinating experiment that I wish more playwrights attempted, though Iron Crow’s production succeeds not because it drops familiar names but because it fills Fraser’s apparitions with warm flesh and beating hearts.
The fine cast is led by Steven J. Satta as David, a moderately successful former actor who now waits tables and shares an apartment with an ex-lover named Candy (Michele Minnick). David scorns love as an act of self deception; when the loneliness grows unbearable, he trolls the shores of Lake Montebello for anonymous sex. Meanwhile, Candy—who gives her age as “thirty-five … ish”—clings to a handsome bartender (Christopher H. Zargarbashi) even as she allows herself to be seduced by a woman she meets at the gym (Erin Gahan).
Satta brings an endearingly light touch to David for as long as the script allows, and his haunted eyes and powerful frame prove great assets when unexpected revelations force David to take a stand. He and Minnick mine plenty of humor from their scenes together, but also deep reserves of feeling; we believe David and Candy share a rich history, such that each is now the most important person in the other’s life. Less convincing is the attraction that Zargarbashi and Gahan’s characters profess for Candy—Fraser writes as though Candy possesses irresistible charisma, but neither he nor Minnick completely succeeds in finding it. Still, Gahan in particular is witty in love and poignant in rejection.
David’s other friends include Bernie (Tim Elliott), an unhappily married sanitation officer whose repressed homosexuality finds an outlet in misogyny and violence; Kane (Ryan Airey), a 19-year-old busboy in the throes of his own sexual identity crisis; and Benita (Katie O. Solomon), a prostitute and psychic with a penchant for stories involving terrorized babysitters, murders on lover’s lane, and other urban legends. Elliott and Solomon both give captivating performances, though in entirely different keys: Bernie spirals ever deeper into psychopathy, while Benita remains formidably self-possessed—their one scene together pulses with the threat of a deadly collision. But the finest performance may belong to Airey, who grows before our eyes into a pillar of strength at the moment David most needs one.
Ritsch and Daniel Ettinger fill the huge space of the Swirnow Theatre with a combination of solid objects—couches, beds, and bar stools—and the skeletal frames of buildings. In his director’s notes, Ritsch describes “the beautiful and mysterious decay of Baltimore row houses,” and though I’m not sure the scenic design conveys this impression, it nevertheless makes a flexible and highly suggestive home for Fraser’s play. Conor Mulligan’s lighting design uses color effectively to create striking contrasts, though actors occasionally seem underlit. Few of the characters require inspired wardrobes, so costumer Julie Heneghan lavishes her attention on Benita, with memorable results. Michael Perrie contributes an evocative, piano-inflected score.