Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kill Me

The Visceral Company presents the Los Angeles premiere of a play by Scott T. Barsotti.

review by Andrew Moore
Cam (Natasha Charles Parker), center, surrounded by (clockwise from left), her sister Wendy (Angela Stern); the four Miseries: Paranoia (Yanna Fabian), Despair (Alexander Price), Dread (Karen Nicole), and Angst (Lamont Webb); and her lover Grace (Jonica Patella), in a scene from Kill Me, now playing at the Lex Theatre through June 2.

Some works of art disturb you, dominate your thoughts, haunt you. Kill Me has the potential to dig its hooks into an audience's psyche, and The Visceral Company's production of this difficult piece very nearly achieves this end. The flaws in the production are significant but not fatal. Kill Me is an intense, suspenseful evening of theater that fans of psychological horror should seek out.

The play opens with a great bit of John McCormick's sound design over blackout, followed by the lyrical pyrotechnics of overlapping dialogue. The audience is injected into the world of the play with immediacy and intensity. Cam (an earnest and committed Natasha Charles Parker) emerges from a life--and sanity--altering experience. Her estranged sister Wendy (Angela Stern) and lover Grace (Jonica Patella) struggle to understand her and help her heal. Cam is haunted by the Miseries, four actors who embody Paranoia, Dread, Despair, and Angst.

Kill Me is a gripping glimpse into schizophrenia; into the horror of living with someone who is so convinced by the reality of her delusions, her loved ones begin to believe as well. It is about the potential contagion of mental illness, and the frightening possibility that the ravings of a lunatic may be prophetic and true. Playwright Scott T. Barsotti has painted a compelling picture. There are moments so ... well, moments so visceral, they are almost impossible to process on a logical level.

The problem is there is no build to these moments. Patella in particular is cranked up pretty high on the intensity scale from the beginning, with nowhere really to go. Even at Grace's weakest, most vulnerable moments she continues with full intensity. Ultimately, it cheats the depth her final moment onstage should have. That's unfortunate, because her journey is the most interesting of the three main characters. Director Dan Spurgeon needs to find the peaks and valleys and exploit them with his actors. Otherwise, it's just an onslaught.

There are other opportunities here that remain unexploited. Given the nature of the dialogue, the fluidity of the scenes, and the dreamlike quality of the show overall it is dismaying that Spurgeon opted for rather static blocking throughout. The choices Spurgeon made lead to awkward transitions at times. For instance, the Miseries are forced to retreat in full view of the audience after particularly feverish interaction with an actor. Slinking backwards to the wings. There is no proper ebb to the flow.

Regarding the Miseries, designers Erica D. Schwartz (costumes) and Jana Wimer (makeup) made very bold and specific choices in their depiction of the Miseries, which is a good thing. However the Miseries feel out of sync with this piece, as if they were characters from another play who happened in to this one. They are just distracting enough at times to work against the mood that is being created.

Despite the problems I found with the production, I greatly enjoyed it. The commitment of the cast, the quality of the production values, and the script itself are all wonderful, and perhaps you will leave it as I did, pondering the themes at play and wondering just how crazy Cam actually was.  This company is fully committed to its mission statement by bringing suspenseful and frightening works to the Los Angeles theatre scene, and they definitely succeed with that aim.

Kill Me is at The Lex Theatre Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm through June 2nd. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased through www.thevisceralcompany.com. The Lex Theatre is located at 6760 Lexington Ave. in Hollywood California, just off Highland. Parking can be a challenge, so get there a little early and pay attention to the signs.

This play contains intense and frightening imagery, including graphic makeup effects. Leave the kids at home.

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