Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, by Brad Fraser, directed by Joe Colarco for the Kitchen Theater Company, through February 26.
In Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, Canadian playwright Brad Fraser uses tabloid materials, exploiting the popular fascinations with mass murders and serial killers to make a case for – sometimes even an indictment of – the equally popular and anguished grasping for something called true love.
The play has a complex, polyphonic structure, shot through with a leitmotif played on a variety of answering machines – whose iterated theme is, “Love me, please; call me please.” Sexual expression is portrayed as both necessary and extremely hazardous; sexual violence hovers perpetually in the shadows. Sexual acts are portrayed onstage, but acts of bloodletting take place – in strict fashion – offstage.
Director Joe Colarco has opted for a relatively abstract approach to the play – asking the audience to imagine the blood that covers one character on two different occasions, and to imagine the food being gobbled by another character during a bulimic binge. But then the actors are called upon, fairly frequently, to take off their clothes – and given the non-realistic treatment of blood and food, the nudity becomes gratuitous.
The setting that Colarco has devised for his co-scenic designers Barry Steele and Melpomme Katakolos also makes demands on the imagination of the audience. A low wall and floor that appear to be made of antiseptic ceramic tiles, with a rumpled bed in the middle, are suggestive of a morgue or a gay bathhouse – not at all inappropriate implications for some aspects of the play, but quite at odds with others.
Colarco is extremely fortunate in several of his actors, whose performances are vibrant and compelling. Chief among these is Douglas Dickerman as David, a romantic figure of a gay man, who has turned his back on a successful television career in Toronto to return home to work as a waiter in Edmonton. Dickerman is an exquisitely sensitive performer, who can turn a pause and a glance into a moment rich in meaning and implication. Outwardly cynical about the existence of anything approaching love, David represents a node of compassion and caring in a small community of people who are suffering all the ills a violent and psychopathic society is heir to.
As Benita, a psychic and prostitute, April Dlugach gives a striking performance. Functioning as a macabre chorus, she recounts stories of psychotic murders, relishing every bloody and bizarre detail. A provocative and enigmatic character, Benita courts hideous danger, but her rationale for this troublingly benign. After and encounter with one customer who had come to vent his abusive lusts, she says, “If I hadn’t been here to help him live out that fantasy, he might’ve forced it on someone – for free.”
Mark Price provides another memorable portrait as Kane, a millionaire’s son who has taken employment as a busboy, and is hopelessly in love with David’s TV persona and equally hopelessly confused about his sexual identity. There are moments of pure humor in this black theater piece, and Price is the progenitor of most of them.
Sexual identity is also a concern for Candy (Stacey Goldstein), who shares an apartment with David but is seeking that person she would like to spend all of her time with. She is drawn to Jerri (Jennifer Mendelson), but repudiates the relationship in a brutal show of homophobia, then takes refuge with Robert (Michael Grasso), who repudiates her in turn, choosing to go back to his wife and small daughter.
And finally, there is Bernie (Jesse Bush), financially successful and arrogant, but pushed to criminal extremes by his inability to act upon his love for David.
The theses are murky and questionable, but this is a work of passion and yearning. The playwright has chosen to use extremely sensational materials, but he also appears to be moved by real grief for a society of souls lost in the heart of darkness.