Interrobang Theatre Project at Athenaeum Theatre. By Philip Ridley. Directed by Jeffry Stanton. With Fred Geyer, Aislinn Kerchaert, Kevin Webb, Mark Lancaster. 1hr 50mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
The title of Philip Ridley’s play might sound like a mash-up of pop-culture worldviews that explains how we got the current edition of Miley Cyrus. But while Ridley’s 1991 work predates Pitchfork’s musical connotation, the Disney reference is no accident. This first stage piece by the British scribe, who also writes children’s books, suggests a fairy tale taken to disturbing extremes and where the moral of the story is: You’re fucked.
The entire piece takes place within the filthy, disheveled home occupied by “ancient children” Presley (Fred Geyer) and Haley (Aislinn Kerchaert), a Hansel and Gretel for the age of anxiety. The 28-year-old twins have been living in a state somewhere between infantile and feral in the decade or so since their parents…disappeared? Left? Met an untimely fate? It isn’t clear where they’ve gone, though the twitchy Presley seems to know more about it than his sister, who he keeps drugged up on chocolate and “med’cin” most of the time.
The two pass their few waking hours playing juvenile, shapeless games and telling each other stories about the post-apocalyptic landscape they imagine the outside world to be. That world invades—or rather, is invited in—when Presley ushers in a stranger named Cosmo Disney (Kevin Webb), a snidely pretty young man in a bright red jacket who makes a living eating live cockroaches for the amusement of paying crowds. While Haley sleeps, Disney needles and cajoles her brother, taunting him with repeated suggestions that Presley is sexually aroused by his presence and coaxing out horrific stories.
It’s pretty nightmarish stuff, and that’s even before Presley recounts his actual recurring nightmare, a gruesome scenario in which he’s eventually mistaken for a serial child murderer known as the Pitchfork Disney. Wouldn’t you know, the associate whose arrival Cosmo Disney is awaiting is a hulking thing named Pitchfork Cavaliere.
So Presley withdraws from the world’s ugliness while Cosmo exploits it. Ridley keeps any further meaning oblique; the piece’s attraction, then, is not its substance but its style—deeply disturbing but marvelously rendered imagery. Set designer Stephen H. Carmody brings that mood to life in the twins’ squalid squat, while Jeffry Stanton’s cast handles Ridley’s difficult language with aplomb; Geyer is particularly magnetic in embodying Presley’s vivid blend of apprehension and curiosity.