Chicago Theatre Review
Sex (and Violence) And the City
Love and Human Remains – Cor Theatre
A serial killer is stalking young women. He slaughters them and dismembers their bodies, striking terror all over the city. Against this frightening backdrop are the intertwined lives of seven diverse men and women. David is a gay actor, once known for his starring role on television. He now waits tables and enjoys loveless, anonymous tricking in his free time. Kane is a sexually confused teenager who works at the same restaurant, often as David’s busboy. The young man, who professes to like girls, is obsessed with David. Candy is David’s roommate. The two were lovers at some point in the past, but are now are simply best friends. Although Candy is straight and has a fascination with Robert, the seemingly gentle bartender at her health club, she’s also intrigued by Jerri’s gay sexual advances. Then there’s Bernie, David’s flirtatious longtime friend, who’s often wasted to the point that he can’t remember where he’s been or with whom. A married heterosexual, he often shows up at David’s door bloodied or injured and winds up cuddling next to David in bed. Add to this mix Benita, David’s aura-reading prostitute friend. She’s a kinky, controlling dominatrix who not only likes her work but enjoys sharing scary urban legends.
Playwright Brad Fraser’s psycho-thriller, which premiered in his native Canada in 1989, made its American debut in Chicago in 1991 (under the longer, original title, “Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love”). It went on to NYC, found its way to the silver screen in a 1993 film adaptation and was later produced here again in 1995 by Circle Theatre. The abbreviated moniker used for the movie has become the new title for the stage version.
Fraser’s play is a mixture of Logo Channel sitcom melodrama, spiced with soft-core pornographic sex scenes, and kept unnerving by the continued presence of a modern-day Jack the Ripper. This very adult play contains nudity, graphic language, drugs and alcohol use and an abundance of simulated sex. They include scenes involving lesbian lovemaking, attempted heterosexual rape, forced gay sodomy, a bisexual bondage three-way and a guy receiving a oral sex while being watched by another man. Between these raw and primal highs and lows, Fraser paints a dark picture of the human condition with sadness, longing, desperation and aggressive action, as well as a few gentle moments and lots of sarcastic humor and brutality. Audiences may find this play difficult to watch, but these uncomfortable scenarios are too often a part of life.
Ernie Nolan, the Artistic Director of Emerald City, and primarily known as a director, teacher, playwright and passionate advocate of theatre for young audiences, makes a bold departure as the director of this sensual and sinister drama. Inside the intimate Rivendell theatre space, he’s kept this two-act thriller moving briskly along, placing the story virtually in the theatergoer’s lap. The action of the play incorporates sudden, unexpected blackouts, thanks to Claire Chrzan’s moody lighting design, and a startling sound palette, the work of Christopher M. LaPorte and Eric Backus, further enhancing every scene through a crazy quilt of illuminated phrases, thoughts and feelings. Navid Afshar makes excellent use of the tiny Rivendell stage, providing a room, dominated by a double bed and backed by an elevated headboard that serves as various bars and the ledge outside a high-rise. The darkened room is watched over by two florescent light sculptures and a large painting that mirrors the colors of the bedding. There are small stools along the walls for side scenes and from which characters may, from time-to-time, perch and observe. The look of this production is altogether intimidating and sinister.
Kate Black-Spence plays Candy, a reviewer of books and the one bright light in this dark landscape. She becomes the playgoer’s surrogate. Not to be discouraged by her roommate’s pessimistic outlook on love, Ms. Spence plays Candy as a likable, positive young woman, who wishes her love life could be as clean and tidy as her apartment. Ms. Spence is a lovely girl with a winning smile, which she uses to full advantage. The audience hurts whenever Candy suffers, but they rejoice in her rare moments of happiness. David, as portrayed by Andrew Goetten, masks his loneliness and denial with a smart ass attitude and a total lack of emotional involvement. However, Mr. Goetten slyly reveals the hurt and need tucked away inside this character with his feigned apathy and a hidden smirk. Less likable than Candy, we still care about David and we worry for his safety, as well as his happiness.
Lauren Sivak is honest, empathetic and winning as Jerri. The lesbian schoolteacher wears her heart on her sleeve, although she professes to be tough and untouchable. Ethan Warren’s Kane is a mixed up, handsome young tease with no clue of who he’s attracted to or how his words and actions affect them. To his credit, Mr. Warren plays youth and dazed and confused extremely well. Sam Guinan-Nyhart is excellent as Bernie, a deeply troubled man who keeps his true personality hidden from his best friend. Mr. Nyhart is purposefully confusing and scary, leaving the audience unsure of who he really is in this story. Eric Staves has a similar role as Robert, the bartender who, on the surface, seems kind and genuine, but actually harbors something darker inside. When crossed, this cuddly teddybear of a man reveals an entirely different and frightening persona. And lastly, Tosha Fowler plays Benita with the gritty assurance of a professional in the sex trade, enjoying every moment of conquest and relishing in even the most terrifying clients and circumstances.
Brad Fraser’s darkly disturbing drama, expertly directed by Ernie Nolan, will bring chills to audiences on these warm, summer evenings. It may prompt theatergoers to take another look at the people in their lives as well as the strangers they encounter. It will titillate and traumatize, frighten and fascinate, but this much is certain: theatergoers won’t be able to look away or stop thinking about this production, long after the final curtain. It’s sex and the city with a big dose of vexation and violence.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 4-July 11 by Cor Theatre at the Rivendell Theatre 5775 N. Ridge Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 866-811-4111 or by going to www.CorTheatre.org.
dditional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.