Grand Guignol

Automobile Graveyard


Crisis Point: theatre of danger and opportunity

Three One-Acts You Can
Smoke and Drink To

Choosy Mothers Theatre

THE PIOUS MIGHT want to bring an exorcist to Fernando Arrabal's Automobile Graveyard, a surrealist revision of the Passion that makes Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ look like Vatican doctrine. Arrabal's Jesus-figure Emanu is a promiscuous hypocrite who boasts of his mattress prowess with Dilla, a junkyard prostitute. And then, in a curious role-reversal, Emanu kills Jews and plays his bongo drums over their graves. Oh, insult. Oh, indignity. Oh, blasphemy.

Members of Emanu's jazz combo fill out the apostle party. Fodere, a mute, is Harpo to Emanu's Groucho; after his friend's arrest, Fodere will deny him three times. Topé hands Emanu over to the sweatsuit-clad Romans, and plays the sitar during intermission. (Don't worry, you're not the only one having trouble following the Biblical metaphor.) And Dilla goes door-to-door turning tricks and collecting pisspots at the behest of her churlish bellhop boyfriend, Milos.

Concealing Dilla's cruel and voyeuristic clients are five cars built from a host of found objects (abbreviated parts inventory: Slinky [1], Ratty Old Boa [1], Negligee [1], Umbrella [1], Decapitated Doll Heads [11], Dartboard [1], Pink Shoe [1], Decapitated Mannequin Heads [2], Christmas Ball [1], Hot Water Bottle [1], Electric Stove Grille [1], Disemboweled Circuit Boards [4]). According to director Melanie Martin, the set designer's mother's boyfriend's father runs a junkyard--although that might be an elaborate paraphrase of the euphemism it fell off the back of the truck. Like the half-buried cars in Texas's Cadillac Ranch, these scrapheaps resemble the dolmens of a culture of death.

Written in 1957 in Franco's Spain, Arrabal's play represented what he called "panic theater"--an attempt to reproduce fear on the grandest scale possible, through all sorts of profane and scatological ceremony. But while Martin (who has crossed faiths since she staged A Shayna Maidel at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company last year) seems to understand that Arrabal's subversiveness is by design shallow and salacious, her actors appear reluctant to follow this aesthetic to its unappetizing endpoint. Milos doesn't really seem to be enjoying himself as he beats Dilla with a stick. He never spanks her like he means it. Topé doesn't snivel enough for his blood money. They know when to say when--but with Arrabal there is no when. In roles that demand an Iggy Pop-rolling-in-glass intensity, this cast comes off like a bunch of collegiate Trent Reznors.

Joe Spencer, whose role demands less savagery, is somewhat of an exception. He plays Emanu as the kind of callow Birkenstock boy one still encounters wielding a hacky sack and an anthology of Jim Morrison poetry--the familiar faux-naif who conducts dope-soaked teenage seductions in the backseat of the family Volvo. Spencer best replicates the playwright's excess in his closing moments--before he is captured, flogged, and crucified on a bicycle--in summoning copious tears by refusing to blink. (I once employed the same crocodile-tears technique against a savvy ex-girlfriend... and never lived it down.) Here, such a blatantly fraudulent gesture is better than the real thing. For all its sordid fantasy and naughty-naughty sacrilege, Arrabal's Automobile Graveyard is less insincere than immature; this is infantility under the cover of absurdity.

Christopher Durang is another playwright seemingly waiting for Daddy to administer a solid spanking (or for Mommy to wash his mouth out with soap). As produced by the Choosy Mothers Theater, 'dentity Crisis presents more of the usual Durang inanity, featuring witless riffs on psychiatry, incest, and transvestism. In concept, 'dentity Crisis is a manic character study on the possibility of removing the first-person "I" from "identity"; in effect this is the longest Monty Python sketch ever seen.

Joining 'dentity Crisis on the Bryant-Lake Bowl's triple-bill of one-acts are MC2 Mask and Clown Co. and Eugene Huddleston. MC2's wordless skits, Max and Alice: A Love Story, support a personal hypothesis that many of this town's most charming actors work in mime, masks or both. Meanwhile, comic, actor, and pianist Huddleston excerpts portions of his upcoming show The Elegant Goofball (returning to the BLB beginning June 26), blowing grade-A smoke rings, dropping Zen one-liners, and telling the kind of anecdotes that sound better with a piano behind them. Whatever the title might seem to imply, The Elegant Goofball owes more to Tom Waits and his piano-bar philosopher from Nighthawks at the Diner than it does Victor Borge. But ultimately, unlike that modest and poker-faced Norwegian, the hyper-poised Huddleston is sometimes a little too insistent on showing the audience that he's in on his own jokes. CP

Automobile Graveyard runs at Spacespace through May 26; 626-1007. Three One-Act Plays You Can Smoke and Drink To runs at Bryant-Lake Bowl through June 1; 825-8949.

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