Toilet Fire: Rectums in the Rectory: Theater review by Jenna Scherer
A word of advice: Make a bathroom run before you sit down for Toilet Fire: Rectums in the Rectory. Eliza Bent's semi-solo show is part church service, part personal confession and all poop jokes—so I guarantee you will not want to spend the evening feeling even a little backed up.
Bent, director Kevin Laibson and composer Alaina Ferris (who also appears as organist) transform the grim basement of the Abrons Arts Center into the Blurch of our Blight, a place of worship for those with digestive complaints of all stripes. Dressed in a silver cape and matching wig, Bent appears behind an altar flanked by fuzzy toilet seat lids. Everyone in the audience is a parishioner, and we're here to sing the praises of "Our Gourd Cheez-It Rice."
Throughout the service—a hybrid of Catholic and Jewish rituals, plus smiling poop emojis—Bent changes costumes to embody a motley variety of Blurchgoers. There's the moody Australian altar girl, the gluten-intolerant Italian woman and the old man with chronic diarrhea taking collection. (One cheeky audience member donated antacid tablets.) The proceedings are simultaneously absurd and comfortingly familiar—a lot like real religious rituals.
Had Toilet Fire been composed entirely of this sweet-natured scatological silliness, it would be a perfectly entertaining, if forgettable, night out. But what elevates the show is its final quarter, when Bent drops the act and comes onstage as herself to make the most compelling "Conflushion" of the night. As silly as the Blurch rituals are, it's the performer's very real attempt to grapple with her confusing religious upbringing and real-life bowel issues. Like the good book says, everybody poops; it's kind of a relief to hear someone actually talk about it who isn't a South Park character.
Both as a performance artist and a wry confessor, Bent makes an impression. She's this generation's answer to Amy Sedaris: frank, weird and immensely likable. Still, it feels like she's only scratching the surface of telling her own story here. Here's hoping that if there's another Blurch service, she'll take it even further.—Jenna Scherer
Abron Arts Center (Off-Off Broaday). By Eliza Bent. Directed by Kevin Laibson. With Bent, Alaina Ferris. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.