Noir by Northwest

Outward Spiral stages a play about ennui and killings in Canada

Canadian bleakness and the rumor of a serial killer cast long shadows over Outward Spiral Theater Company's upcoming play, Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. After a season that included the lighthearted comedy Holy Smoke and Kim Allen's one-man cabaret Je M'appelle Kim, the Twin Cities GLBT theater company Outward Spiral and artistic director Timothy Lee have decided to tackle Brad Fraser's creepy, psycho-sexual look at the underbelly of gay Canadian culture. The stage play was an off-Broadway smash in the early '90s and was later refashioned into a film, Love and Human Remains.

Set in Edmonton--a crumbling, industrial city resembling Gary, Ind.--the seven characters spend their time whirling from living room to bedroom to bar to gym and back again, bumping up against one another in random, sexual, often sad ways. The quirky cast of characters includes David, an ex-child actor who used to sleep with his roommate, Candy, but now sleeps with men. Body-image-conscious Candy, who never recovered from the breakup with David and consequently careens between heart-pumping workouts and binge eating, loathes David's best friend, Bernie, a promiscuous misogynist who often arrives drunk at David and Candy's home late at night. Gym-rat lesbian Jerri shows up to pursue Candy in an unsubtle, obsessive fashion, as does bartender Robert, while Kane, an almost-18-year-old straight busboy working at the same restaurant as David, takes an ambivalent shine to the older gay man. Capping it off is Benita, the sadomasochistic prostitute with the proverbial heart of gold--a woman who spends her time spinning ghost stories. Meanwhile, a series of unsolved murders continues to get closer to home.

"This is the type of play that's not often done in the Twin Cities, so we're very excited about that," says Lee. "There are very few thrillers written for the stage, and this is a very well-
written thriller." Perhaps not unexpectedly, the play has a cinematic feel. Quick cuts between retellings of creepy urban myths and horror stories and the multiple plot lines of the play serve to carry the viewer swiftly through a series of increasingly depressing scenes. What Lee describes as a "great big Rubik's cube of a set" will encompass a bar, a gym, a restaurant and multiple bedrooms--with set changes happening very quickly. Glenn Klapperich, stage manager for the show, explains: "It's a very liquid stage, as we need to go from one side of Edmonton to the other." The media incorporated into the play--televisions and slides pop up on stage throughout--only heighten the viewers' sense that Unidentified Human Remains is not unlike an extremely dark film noir.

But Lee, who directs, says he's determined to make sure things don't get too dismal. Even as the bodies pile up and the characters suffocate under the weight of their own weaknesses, he says, the play offers something more. At root, Lee claims, the play is a vehicle for examining how and why wounded people come together and try to care about one another. Ryan Jensen, who plays David, the late twentysomething queer whose life seems an endless round of drinking and random sex, notes, "Everyone in this play is an inherently good person--people who are trying to be good, but are trying to reconcile their animal instincts."

Perhaps. But in an era when stories of serial killings regularly make the media, will the specter of death eclipse our sense of human goodness?

Lee doesn't think so. He argues that this is a story about unfulfilled longing. "At bottom, this is a love story," he says. "Everyone in this play wants someone they can't have. I want the audience to root for these people."

Outward Spiral's production of Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love opens Oct. 23 at the Hennepin Center for the Arts.

 
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