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In the 90 years since the storied thrill-kill pact between Leopold and Loeb, murder conspiracies have often been artistically appropriated as coded expression of sexual desires otherwise deemed forbidden. Although closely inspired by the notorious 2001 case of the Rotenburg Cannibal, Armin Miewes — a subject since of several films, as well as the title tune of the Mein Teil album by the industrial metal band Rammstein — this first play by television writer Benjamin Brand (IFC’s Bollywood Hero), Taste, stands squarely in the single-set and classical unities tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of Rope.
The fastidious Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello), well-schooled from television chefs such as Jacques Pepin, caramelizes some onions in his carefully arranged apartment, the set of which consists primarily of a kitchen. Director Stuart Gordon, a gorefest connoisseur, invokes sensory recollections of cinematic Smell-O-Vision with the cepaceous aroma, when the awaited visitor comes to the door.
The effacing Vic (Chris L. McKenna) has connected online with Terry, and this first meeting, however tentative, is also intended to be their last, as Vic has consented to having his penis removed and jointly eaten before being butchered, motivated both by his desire for the sexual pleasure of the pain and the obsession to leave nothing of himself to remain as waste, a complete abnegation of body and being. For his part, Terry is keen to record the entire process with his camera to add to his extensive collection of porn. Of course, foreplay being all, they must first find a way to connect, in friendship, in trust, and in a kind of love.
Obviously, the squeamish and impressionable are to be strenuously warned, and Brand will doubtless never see an American airwave adaptation, even on cable. Director Gordon’s great coup is that the creepiest aspect of the action is the Internet blind date itself, as he guides his intrepid actors through such courageous paces that their perverted dance of death seduces with its an aberrant illogic.
Everyone is on treacherous ground here, not merely for the matter-of-fact exploitation of taboos, but also by uncomfortably brushing against the now-hackneyed theatrical tradition, once reinforced by misguided psychiatry, of deranged, murderous homosexuals. Everyone involved is obviously sensitive to the risk, knowingly flirting with the stereotypes while at pains to avoid them, itself a dangerous game.
While Gordon doesn’t stint on the sanguinary effects nor on the giggly gross-outs, it is his precise restraint and respect for the play’s inexorable build that transcends the titters and tempers the sensational. From his early work at Chicago’s Organic Theater, such as Warp!, and first bringing attention to David Mamet with the world premiere of Sexual Perversity in Chicago in the early 1970s, through his disreputable yet distinguished movie career (the Lovecraft and Poe adaptations, plus films like Dolls, Fortress, Edmond and Stuck), to his recent local stage work including the musical version of his film debut Re-Animator or Kaballah: Scary Jewish Stories, Gordon consistently masters fears through their contrivance. This remarkable provocation pulls off the tricky balance of trafficking in excess without becoming indulgently complicit in it.
Venue: Sacred Fools Theater Company, Hollywood (runs through May 17)
Cast: Donal Thoms-Cappello, Chris L. McKenna
Director: Stuart Gordon
Playwright: Benjamin Brand
Set designer: DeAnne Millais
Lighting designer: Matt Richter
Costume designer: Jennifer Christina Smith
Producers: Ben Rock, Jenelle Riley, Dean Schramm, Adam Goldworm & Stuart Gordon
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