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Mercury Fur at EX-Pats Theatre Company | Theater review

Philip Ridley’s savage pulp drama about snuff fantasies gets an ambitiously eerie basement rendition.

English playwright Philip Ridley’s savage pulp drama caused a minor stir in 2005 when Ridley’s publisher, Faber and Faber, refused to publish the script, which features embellished torture prose and candid depictions of fetishistic violence. Keep in mind this dustup occurred within the same British theater community that heralded in-yer-face artists Anthony Neilson and Martin McDonagh, who share a similar bloody taste for slaughtering their characters and pushing audiences past the point of decency. Frankly, Ridley’s work here is just as sophisticated, engaging and otherworldly as the others’ most challenging plays. Depravity isn’t the attraction; it’s the backdrop for sacrifice and hope in circumstances where those virtues are the most thirsted after and, for emotionally wrung viewers, the most rewarding.

Two brothers try to survive in a future England ravaged by an untold tragedy and a hallucinogenic-drug epidemic. Feeding off a culture whose concepts of power and sex are dangerously interwoven with destruction, Elliott and Darren (Stephen Travierso and Nik Kourtis) plan taboo fantasy snuff parties in which a “party piece” (a child in the original text, wisely made an adult in Chad Duda’s production) is presented to—and dies by the hand of—a “party guest.” In a makeshift, bizarre, quintessentially Chicago-storefront fashion, EX-Pats Theatre stages its production in an eerie and fitting site-specific apartment basement. There’s a hungry charm to this young ensemble, whose ambition helps offset some urgency-limiting casting choices. A breakout performance by Aaron Stephenson as a would-be assistant, however, would be well suited on any stage.

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