Written and Directed by Judson Blake
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 4.30.17
13th Street Repertory Theater, 50 West 13th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 4.9.17
The cast of Perversion. Photo by Deangelo Miller.
BOTTOM LINE: An absurdist play about the current climate of American politics.
This new play, written and directed by Judson Blake, opens on a pensive Martin (Daniel Cuff), who is clearly worried about something, and his lover Phyllis (Jennifer Susi), who wishes Martin would stop fretting and engage in a perversion with her. We are not told what this perversion is—but no matter—we easily accept that it’s a private matter between two consenting adults. We don’t need to know the ins and outs of what goes on in their bedroom. But it’s clearly a practice that they would be judged harshly for if the authorities in this play got wind of it.
When the authorities show up, they refuse to leave. They are Quibble (Harry Bainbridge) and Scar (Tony Del Bono), two overbearing officials who claim they are here to conduct a meat inspection. Scar affixes a section cup to Quibble’s head, which is tethered to a plastic tube and attached to Scar’s utility belt. Its purpose is unknown, and I’m sure that’s the point, but Scar is adamant that it must never be removed. The whole enterprise seems to be a ruse to occupy and interfere in the lives of private citizens.
And what is the meat that they mean to inspect? Is it edible? Is it a wild animal that lurks in the house? In the first scene, Martin hears the menacing roars of something alive, but he seems to be the only one. Are these roars real, or is Martin paranoid? Unfortunately, the issue is never revisited. I was hoping the authoritarian meat inspection would put it to rest, but the only culmination that is offered is the senseless murder of Martin’s brother, Terrence (Andy Nordin), when he dares to stand up to incompetent authority.
Clearly the play is meant as an allegory for the current United States government. But for an allegory to work, it must capture our imagination and investment within its own context. This play never earns our investment because we have no idea what any character in the play needs or wants, other than the departure of the two buffoons who are causing all the trouble.
I’m sure Blake would argue that the unexplained ambiguities are permissible on account of the absurdist style, but the Theatre of the Absurd should always offer us something to root for. We understand that Didi and Gogo desperately need Godot to arrive. We understand that Hamm and Clov annoy each other beyond endurance but face the dilemma that neither of them would survive without the other. But the needs of Perversion's characters are completely unintelligible, and so spending 130 minutes with them becomes something of an exercise.
If you’re so outraged by Trump that you would relish seeing his administration lampooned by live actors, Perversion runs through April 30. Personally, I prefer my satire to offer clarity or a new perspective on its subject. Unfortunately, I found myself even more confused about the state of our country when the house lights came up.
(Perversion plays at the 13th Street Repertory Theater, 13 West 13th Street, through April 30, 2017. The running time is two hours and ten minutes with an intermission. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 4 and 8; Sundays at 3 and 6. Tickets are $24 and are available at 13thstreetrep.org or by calling 212-868-4444.)
Perversion is written and directed by Judson Blake. Set Design is by Alexandra Del Bello. Costume Design is by Mychael Fuller. Production Manager and Assistant Director is Allison Hohman.
The cast is Harry Bainbridge, Daniel Cuff, Tony Del Bono, Dana Jesberger, Irina Kaplan, Robert Lewis, Andy Nordin, and Jennifer Susi.