Sometimes Infantile, Not Terrible
(left to right) Scott Ray Merchant, Casey Kells, Chris Mueller, Alex Kyger, Eric Swanson, Brian Rad. Photo by Tom Hartmon.
When my roommate, brilliant actor/playwright/novelist Jessica Cluess, and I see a particularly strange piece of theatre or film, she generally turns to me with a shrug and says "Well, that happened." In a way it's a compliment: the art has, after all, provoked a reaction that's hard to put into words. There are many worse things a play or movie can do than weird you out. But if that's all it does, it's hard to argue that it's really effective--weirdness alone doesn't stick for long.
Well, Les Enfants Terribles: Prom Night certainly happened. What exactly was it that happened? Well, we're in a gym, decorated in patented tacky prom style (Shaun Renfro did the witty set). Just as a group of students (Jonathan Helvey, RyanLempka, and Amanda Beth Miller) are about to draw the name of the Prom King, Les Enfants burst in. Les Enfants, played by Casey Kells, Alex Kyger, Scott Ray Merchant, Christopher Paul Mueller, Brian Rad, and Eric Ryan Swanson, are a group of grotesque figures. They are wearing brownish, stained unitards, with foam-rubber growths of various kinds underneath--one has large, clunky feet, another gigantic breasts, the third a phallus that goes straight up to his sternum and what appear to be giant rabbit ears on his head. They chase out the people and proceed to enact a grotesque parody of the processes of courtship and prom royalty election, interspersed with bizarre a cappella performances of songs ranging from "All You Need Is Love" to "Tubthumping", violent beatings, and declarations of "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry." In less than an hour, it's done.
It's hard to make a recommendation on this show, because it depends so thoroughly on the taste of the audience members. For those who like aggressive, grotesque, bizarre humor, it's sidesplitting (and there were some in the audience). Others are likely to find it intensely unpleasant. I fell somewhere in between--moments made me laugh, others made me uncomfortable, and there were sections where I just got bored or felt like the show was repeating itself. The cast is clearly talented: they create clear and sharp characterizations and throw themselves into the show with complete commitment and unwavering intensity. (All are recent graduates of Roosevelt University.) It just doesn't add up to much, in the end. It's too weird to be silly, escapist comedy, but if there was any satirical point or commentary on humanity, it didn't come through to me. The show may just be going for "bizarre provocation with uncomfortable laughs", in which case it succeeds on those limited grounds--it's certainly bizarre and provocative, and often funny. It hasn't yet cohered into a compelling show, but it will be interesting to see how the group matures over time.
One important note: if you do go, dress as lightly as possible. The night we went, it was absolutely stifling in there, despite the best efforts of a few fans. Hopefully Red Tape will come up with another plan to keep the place cool, but for now, wear shorts and sandals if possible, and bring water.