|Bill Connington in "Zombie."|| |
A pair of plays based on works by Joyce Carol Oates "Zombie" and "The Corn Maiden" make a killing at the Fringe Festival.
By ELIZABETH BACHNER
(Originally reviewed at the 2008 New York Fringe Festival)
Novelist Joyce Carol Oates has said, "When people say there is too much violence in my books, what they are saying is there is too much reality in life." I'm not always an Oates fan I like her dark themes, but she's so prolific that there's often a cinematic slickness to her work. This year at Fringe, though, there were two plays based on Oates' disturbing, violent work, and both proved that she's a natural fit for stage adaptations. Watching them was even better than feeding my secret, guilty "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" addiction.
"Zombie," a lean, hourlong, one-man show starring Bill Connington as the serial killer Quentin P., really creeped me the hell out. It's easy enough to play a crazy man or a sicko, but Connington goes beyond Quentin's awful smile and disturbed, sometimes singsong voice to fully embody this rapist-murderer. The way he moves, his dead eyes, the look of his skin, and his overall vibe make it almost impossible to hold on to the fact that he's an actor. I know it was my imagination, but it even seemed like he smelled of a maximum-security prison. It's fully believable that he rapes and kills little boys and keeps their treasured body parts in a meat locker. I could have used the solace of a parent patting my arm and saying, "It's only a play."
|Written and performed by: Bill Connington.|
Directed by: Thomas Caruso.
Based on the novel by: Joyce Carol Oates.
Related links: Official site
410 West 42nd St. (btw. 9th & 10th Aves.)
Previews start: Feb. 18, 2009
Feb. 21 - March 29, 2009
|THE CORN MAIDEN|
|Written by: Justin Swain and Jess McLeod.|
Directed by: Jess McLeod.
Based on novella by: Joyce Carol Oates.
Cast: Maria Teresa Creasey, Heather Bonahoom, Kate Shine, Hana Kalinski, Erin Roberts, Jessica Day, Michael Markham.
Related links: Official site
|The New School for Drama|
151 Bank Street (between West and Washington)
Fringe Festival 2008, Aug. 8-24, 2008
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Connington's performance is enhanced by great lighting, a chilling original score by Deirdre Broderick, and his own spare, skillful adaptation of Oates' material. Director Thomas Caruso also contributes to the focused strength of the performance. At a time when most Fringe shows (and many movies and plays in general) badly need cutting, Zombie is keenly-edited and never gets boring or strays into murky territory.
"Zombie" is disturbing material in both good and bad ways. Oates' original character, based on Jeffrey Dahmer, has been perverted by closeted homosexuality. Her treatment doesn't adequately problematize the difference between suppressed same-sex urges and pedophilia (let alone sadism, necrophilia and cannibalism.) There's something unsettling about her broad strokes. Connington's interpretation is both more repulsive and more refined. I was too entertained to think critically about the narrative and why else, really, do you go see a horror show? To feel that thrill of fear and get really creeped out.
|"The Corn Maiden."|
This year's Fringe version of "The Corn Maiden," Oates' story of the kidnapping and near-murder of Marisa Bantry, a golden-haired 12-year-old by three disturbed teenage girls in Westchester, is more uneven than Zombie. It's a multimedia production, with images from the characters' inner lives projected on screens behind the action. The performances are all credible especially Erin Roberts' subtle and moving portrayal of Leah Bantry, the struggling single mother of the missing girl.
"The Corn Maiden" should be a haunting exploration of adolescent jealousy gone too far, but there's something a bit innocuous and just not creepy enough about this production, even with the awful sight of the innocent, drugged girl (impressively played by newcomer Hana Kalinski) being pawed by her school uniform-clad captors. Having seen "Zombie" the same weekend, I had had the recent experience of being actually and thrillingly frightened by a play. Still, "The Corn Maiden" is darkly funny and thoroughly entertaining.
Justin Swain and Jess McLeod's adaptation is strongest when examining the less-horrific aspects of Marisa's story the different ways that her absence effects the lives of those around her (her mother, aunt and the male teacher accused of her kidnapping), forcing them to question all of their lies and secrets, and driving them to feel guilt even when they are innocent.
If I have an opportunity to watch more scary, grisly Joyce Carol Oates adaptations at next year's Fringe, I'll leap at the chance. In the meantime, I'll hope not to run into Bill Connington in any dark alleys.