MadKap Productions at Greenhouse Theater Center. By David Alex. Directed by Wayne Mell. With ensemble cast. 2hrs; one intermission.
Theater review by Kevin Thomas
David Alex’s new work purports to be a suspense thriller about Albert Durante (Matthew J. Lloyd), a black ex-con who works with a crotchety and short-tempered Christian zealot named Contrapasso (John Norris) in his book restoration shop. When Durante’s teenage niece Beatrice (Destiny Strothers) takes a job there to be with her uncle, she catches the leering eye of Contrapasso—all while Durante is hounded by the police over the recent robbery of a priceless copy of The Divine Comedy.
Buying Corpus Delecti as a thriller is not unlike imagining the sound of one hand clapping, in that both are a fascinating mental exercise into the absurd. The play has murder, robbery, vengeance, mystery and evil. Yet nothing is thrilling. Events follow a very straight line from point to point without concern for suspense or suspending our disbelief. Several important reveals are accomplished by news flash or sudden realization and immediately accepted as fact without hesitation. Remarkably, the production is more at ease when nothing is happening than when moving forward.
David Alex’s writing and Wayne Mell’s direction live comfortably in the lazy bustle of the workday and casual conversation, and the cast mostly serves the characters well. But any glimpses of relatable behavior are wiped away by the machinations of an indifferent, artificial story.
Our villain, Contrapasso, is evil because… something about Christianity and mommy issues. Whatever it is, we’re led to believe it’s inducement enough for him to stab someone. Yet the foundations of his faith go unexplored; the details of his past are motivational, but not meaningful. The same is true of Durante, who went to jail for a crime he says he did not commit. What it was, and whether or not he’s telling the truth, have no consequence.
As for Beatrice, the less said the better. She’s treated as an innocent, though she blogs about eavesdropping on stranger’s salacious stories. And in a play so full of dust and worn leather, this hyper, chirpy teen who breaks into song every five minutes is bafflingly out of place. (Not to mention, what teenager would be caught using AOL in this day and age?)
The heart of our frustration with Corpus Delicti is not that failed in achieving its goal; it’s that it doesn’t seem to have one.
There is one brilliant bright spot in this production—Michael Bullaro as Virgil, a homeless veteran whom Durante befriends. Virgil is easy company, amusing and sad and loving. We’ve all probably met a Virgil, that guy who’s so used to being dismissed he’s come out the other side and is as insistent and un-self-conscious as a billionaire. Bullaro is so alive in his odd poses, twitches and shuffles, you forget his character is stuck on a bench the whole play. It’s a shame Virgil has no place in the plot.