Tuesday, July 20, 2010
At the Theater: Molotov's THE HORRORS OF ONLINE DATING
It's Molotov's first musical! It's AVENUE Q with gore! It's a gleefully tasteless romp! And with far more depth and meaning that you might think!
HORRORS is the tale of Judy (Jenny Donovan), who's cruising for dates online under the name "Carrie." She has conversations with her cat, her laptop, and a bottle of antipsychotic medications (all played by puppets), and ends her hookups with torture and murder. She has a prickly situation with co-workers Donna (Karen Novack) and Kent (Graham Pilato), but eventually hopes to find salvation in the form of self-help guru Francis Rabassa (Lucas Maloney)....
It was about ten times the play I expected. Sure, it gets down to the brass tacks with a disembowelment in the opening scene, and blood flies left and right and up and down (plastic ponchos are issued to audience members as they walk in, and no, sitting in the back row won't save you), but it's pleasantly surprising by showing some real depth. Donovan, who was the innocent victim in MONDO ANDRONICUS, is exceptional here as Judy; it's a role easily played as an eye-rolling maniac, but she brings out Judy's loneliness, vulnerability, and confusion, until she becomes a sort of homicidal Everywoman who simultaneously evokes sympathy and terror. Her murders stop seeming gratuitous and instead are a symptom of a person who finds ways to hurt other people before they have a chance to hurt her. At one point she's asked about the last time she had sex, and maybe she wouldn't be so uptight if she actually would have sex instead of murdering people? Another time she explains her murderous habits by saying that it made her happy...but Donovan's expression tells that the happiness she finds is only fleeting.
Judy is a mess, seeking affection and affirmation willy-nilly, swallowing a motivational speaker's bulldada about how healing comes from within, but still expecting him to personally fix her. And she's lost in a world of duplicity; the men she meets are almost all cheating on their spouses, her friends are hiding their affairs from her, and her one ray of light is a cynical opportunist merely hoping to get in her pants. She depends on, and resents, her medication, and wishes her laptop would leave her alone. She's the ultimate alienated single person in today's screwy world.
Aside from Donovan's performance, the script by Shawn Paul Northrip touches on the many realities of dating in today's world. I kept thinking of the times I've met with less drastic treatment, dumped in various passive-aggressive ways, or used to find fleeting satisfaction and then discarded. It's something many of us have experienced, and Northrip simply takes it a few steps further.
The songs work well within the context of the show; nothing seems forced or ill-fitted. Donovan has a lovely singing voice, and the rest of the crew range from the serviceable to the pleasant. (OK, there's no major Broadway talent here, but it works.) The puppets and their puppeteers work very well. They're not simply people controlling the plushy puppets, but amalgamations requiring that you divide your attention between the puppet and the person. (In other words, they actually ACT.) Kudos to Luke "The Duke" Ciesiewicz as Frenziapine the antipsychotic medication, Julie Garner as the vampy, leggy Laptop, and Genevieve James as the petulant Mittens the Cat. James is delightful as a sort of Greek chorus appearing between acts, as a little girl jumping rope and making macabre rhymes commenting on the action. Alex Zavistovich isn't in the lead here, but does appear in a succession of victim roles...and takes his chance to add zest to the character of a philandering husband. But he's also the mastermind behind the show's gore effects, ranging from the aforementioned disembowelment to gunshot wounds, power tool murders, and amputated fingers. (In other words, wear something washable.)
This is part of the Capital Fringe Festival, and there's only a few performances left, so run and catch it!