Monday, March 7, 2011

Molotov's latest: "Morgue Story"

 "Morgue Story" is the latest atrocity from DC's own Molotov Theatre Group; it's gruesome, tasteless, gory, vulgar, intelligent, sensitive, tragic, and overflowing with irony and its awareness of the omnipresence of death.  It's like scratching the surface of a John Waters plot and Schopenhauer underneath.

It's the story of Ana Argento, a comic-book artist who chronicles the unlife of a zombie named Oswald, who's looking for a connection in unlikely places.  There's also Dr. Daniel Torres, a coroner consumed by his religion, by his nagging mother, and by his inability to genuinely connect with real people.  And there's Tom, the life insurance salesman with a tendency toward catalepsy, who keeps waking up in morgues or in ambulances and whose resurrections have ended careers and lives.

Interwoven are the Barman, a former medical student traumatized by one of Tom's resurrections; Dr. Samuel, a therapist who could probably stand some of his own treatment, and his wife, Martina, an ill-fated harridan who's probably a few steps shy of being in the "castrating bitch" category.

What happens?  It's like a bedroom farce, only with arterial spray.  There's savage humor galore, most memorably during an attempted rape scene; Dr. Torres is trying to force his attentions on Ana, but is taken aback when she suddenly wants to know about his favorite music and TV shows.  But there's also times when the brutal Dr. Torres lets us see his confused, lost side.  Alex Zavistovich has probably never been compared to John Waters' muse Divine before, but he shares the Baltimore drag queen's ability to simultaneously evoke pity and terror.

And, of course, it's dripping with bitter irony, of which the cataleptic life insurance salesman is only the tip of the iceberg.  People also have a way of dying before they sign the papers!  And death is all over the place, not only in the setting (chiefly in a morgue) but in the characters themselves and their professions.  In one way or another, the three central characters all make a living off death, and it permeates their beings and influences their actions and choices.

Genevieve James strikes all the right notes (and all the right blows) as Ana, who embraces her weirdness, likes it in others, but is simultaneously tougher and more vulnerable than she realizes.  Luke Cisiewicz brings a fatalistic jollity to Tom that works marvelously.  Dave Gamble is a great mix of stolidity and sarcasm as Dr. Samuel, and Heather Whitpan made the most of her small role without being ridiculous and tiresome.  Kevin Finkelstein is slackeriffic as the embittered barman.

But it's also a great way of seeing how far Molotov has come.  Everything's really coming together and gelling well; they're really hitting their stride and functioning more smoothly as an ensemble.  "Morgue Story" also symbolizes a coup for them; this is the English-language debut of the play, initially performed in Brazil by a Grand Guignol company there, and made into a movie, directed by the playwright, Paulo Biscaia Filho.

I have to admit; I was late to the show and missed the first few minutes, but had no problem catching on.  (I was late getting there, thanks to a nosebleed that struck just as I was getting ready to head out, and then by the lack of parking in the area; I eventually had to say, the hell with it, and park illegally just to resolve the nervous breakdown I was close to having...)  The door said "No Late Seating," but for once a dose of Not Getting Over One's Self struck and I thought, "Hey, it's me, they count on me being here, they won't care," and bless their black little hearts, they didn't care in the least.  And after I was called to join the cast and crew in a toast; I'm no slouch in the boozing department but I have to confess that an Irish Car Bomb was just a teeny bit much for me.  Next time I'm taking the Metro down, good and early, and going back for those first few minutes.

"Morgue Story" plays Wednesdays through Sundays until April 8, at 1409 Playbill Cafe (1409 14th St NW, Washington, DC); for more info and tickets, go to Molotov's page.  See it, folks, you'll be glad you did.  But don't wear your best clothes.

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