In the Brambles of Perversity

Unidentified Human Remains & the True Nature of Love is not a play about breasts, but let's talk about breasts. In this play, you will see six (6) of them. They are all very nice. They come equipped with nipples, and they are all, to my mind, exactly the right size. Of course, since I am neither a breast man nor even a straight man, aesthetic judgments like these probably can't count for much. Dear Reader: You may in fact wish to discount this entire opening paragraph. Mea culpa.

But Unidentified Human Remains is so fast, vicious, and polyphonically busy with its own giddy perversity that meaningless little details like the actors' aforementioned boobies are just about the only things a poor whiplashed audient like yours truly can, er, grab onto. Which is shitty, cuz a grocery-list description of this play will completely miss the thing's acid-noir ambience. The production is so magnetic that it's liable to slurp your bulging eyes clean out of their sockets before you even notice you're watching an ordinary stage play with an ordinary plot that, theoretically, you're supposed to be sussing out.

Gotta start somewhere though, right? Ah, the print media. Whattadrag. This is why Robert Hooker, founder of Sol Theatre and the midwife responsible for birthing this slobbering Grand Guignol monstrosity, doesn't work at a newspaper. Not enough opportunities for cracking open yer skull and scampering free like a fevered, pulsing, insect brain in search of prurient amusement and blood. Narf: In the print media, you're beholden to editors and investors and all manner of mysterious men in suits. Hooker's just gotta grant himself permission to ooze as far into the bowels of human derangement as he can and persuade his actors to come with him.

Does he? Hell, yes! And a tricky gig it is too. Here's your setup: In Edmonton, Alberta, seven folks with highly malleable sexual identities are feeling gloomily lonesome and borderline psychotic. They have obsessions. Some are obsessed with one another, some are obsessed with themselves, and one of them might be obsessed with chopping young girls into tiny pieces. The action is in constant motion from place to place — the tops of skyscrapers, a bar, a restaurant, a living room, a junkie pad, three bedrooms, maybe more. You lose count after a while, but the facility with which the cast makes these transitions is a testament to... well, what? It might be brilliance, or it might be that Sol's been spinning gold out of straw for six years and can now make such feats look casual. Sol's set is static and simple, consisting of a couch, a coffee table, a series of blocks, and a mattress, all of which pull double or triple duty, but there's never a moment of confusion about where you are.

That's priceless, but it's just more grocery-list pabulum. Ditto all possible dissertations on the production's lighting (extreme!) and sound (scary!), both of which are just means to an end and neuron-numbingly boring to dish about. 'Tis far better to riff about how playwright Brad Fraser writes scenes that start off as "realism" and then come flying deliriously apart two minutes later as dialogue is suspended to make room for sudden word association ("love!" "death!" "blood!" "cum!") and monologues are begun in disparate locations before magically coalescing, circling around some dark nebulous theme and leaving everyone within earshot creeped out of their gourds. On one memorable occasion, Dominick Giombetti's put-upon gay Everyman, "David," regales the audience with a nausea-inducing tale about trolling for sex in some park's cruisy spot and finding a boy's decomposing body in the brambles, all while two ladies make love on the mattress behind him.

It's wild and not a little shocking to see these gross juxtapositions in a theatrical climate like SoFla's, where so many productions exist solely to reify the public's expectations. This is theater for curve ball lovers, and the curve balls keep coming. Words, blind references, and ominous fragments ("She would have left a note!" "Everybody lies!") come whispering or crying or hollering from the dark, or the action drifts to a momentarily forgotten part of the set and then snaps back, some nascent scene aborted, clues to the play's twisted little heart left hanging in the air. The eye is dragged in a dozen directions while the brain races to compute all the information being foisted upon it — a totally fruitless pursuit but endlessly exhilarating. Smelling salts for the mind.

And... what does it all mean? Probably a whole mess of things, though those things are liable to change depending upon whom you ask, and no explanation is likely to satisfy. One hint might be the repeated theme of dominion and kingship. The "serial killer" character keeps talking about controlling other people; the frequently referenced song "Lavender Blue" reiterates the idea and contains the lines "When I am King/Dilly-dilly/You shall be Queen"; a bar referenced in the script is called "King's Way." Or maybe that's all just a red herring. Maybe Fraser really tried to explain himself at play's end, suggesting that, in the face of crippling romantic dysfunction and mass murder, togetherness and 17-year-old catamites can still save the day. But this is so obviously untrue that I doubt Fraser meant it: It's just another perspective-twisting piece of what is, at base, a purely formal creation. Art for art's sake and all that, designed to do naught but blow thine mind.

And I'm OK with that. Unidentified Johnny Tremains was turned into a movie in 1993, but don't bother with it — this stuff is so wrigglingly, electrically alive on stage that setting it in stone for all time can serve only to debone its core of novelty and surprise. That's the stuff that the Sol Theatre Project is dealing in. From Fraser's writing to Hooker's madcap direction to his whip-smart cast, these folks understand that getting blindsided can be a lot more fun than getting affirmed.

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Brandon K. Thorp