BWW Review: Sluts and Tramps Declare LOVE IS DEAD!
It's a violent little play full of gallows humour, misogynistic cracks, and rambling word games that go on for too long and yet, there is something to it. LOVE IS DEAD! - written and directed by Seanie Sugrue - gave a rough premiere tonight at The Secret Theatre. Beneath its plodding pace, one thing is clear: the work is a modern day penny-dreadful, though with more South Park style than Grand Guignol wit.
An unfaithful man murders his wife to stop her from leaving him, after which that man's father murders his mother because he hates her. Troublingly, this "Women in Refrigerators" treatment permeates the entire production. Sugrue has created random acts of violence to move the story along with the idea that "these people are crazy so anything can happen". What his actors have failed at is making any of it believable.
John Warren, though physically right, was completely out depth as a weasel who makes the jump from pathetic louche to murderer and poor Rachel Zapata deserved better than the role of refrigerator stuffing. Meanwhile, Richard Mazda and Julie Reifers - charmers blessed with golden voices - played the verbally combative parents as if they were in a radio play, which was fine until you remembered that this wasn't a battle of monologues. Where was the chemistry? Even abusive couples, who've heard it all, listen to each other. The real question is, why have Mazda and Reifers stayed together despite treating each other so horrifically?
Chapter 2 opened like a silent movie with sizzling intimacy between Ana Roshelle Diaz and Gerard McNamee Jr. Following this sweet spot, the play returned to loopy horror-story territory. Diaz's character, with encouragement from her best friend, is leaving her abusive husband for McNamee. Her husband murders her even though he wants to abandon her for the dubious best friend. Patrick Brian Scherrer and Ashton Foster - the husband and best friend - play their insane characters with little specificity or guile. And while the three year old in an adult's body approach works to a certain extent, if everything is crazy then nothing is motivated; and if nothing is motivated then why should we care? Even psychopaths know that they are supposed to behave sanely. As to the dark comedy, it was played for laughs with awkward timing making it nearly impossible to enjoy.
With the return of McNamee, the over-the-top acting style gave way to verisimilitude. Though Foster is meant to lure him into the bedroom so that Scherrer can bludgeon him to death, McNamee's sex appeal saves him. Sex - and subtlety - sells. If only the other actors understood this. It is note-worthy that McNamee is making his stage debut in this part. While he upstages himself and speaks too softly, he possesses the actor's gift of owning his space and listening. Because he is interested, he is interesting. Best of all, given the space to be heard, Foster's exchanges became more vulnerable and believable, especially after she loses it over a football rivalry.
Chapter 3, the best-written scene, is a tour de force for Hannah Jane McMurray as Maggie the prostitute with a heart of granite and an expensive coke habit. Though just as insane as the other characters - she talks to her goldfish Franky and he responds - McMurray plays Maggie as a grounded person with a clear understanding for why she does what she does even if what she is doing makes no sense. This is true in her negotiations with John Warren - excellent as a love struck john - her father - Myles O'Connor in an overwritten part - and the hyper-murderous Scherrer. She dispatches all three in the name of money and retribution and has a grand olde time doing so. Best of all, we understand her calculating scheming because McMurray shows us where it comes from. In one sense, she performs as if she is in a one-woman show with the intruding characters as noxious thoughts to be overcome. She could be Mrs. Lovett, had Lovette murdered Sweeney and harvested his organs for drug money. When she declares that "LOVE IS DEAD!" I believe her and understand that in Sugrue's world, you better lose your heart before you lose yourself.
LOVE IS DEAD! continues at The Secret Theatre through September 23rd, 2017 with the following performance schedule:
Friday 8th, Saturday 9th, Sunday 10th
Wednesday 13th, Thursday 14th, Friday 15th
Saturday 16th, Sunday 17th, Wednesday 20th
Thursday 21st, Friday 22nd, Saturday 23rd
Tickets are $18. For more information, visit: lockedintheatticproductions.com