Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Those interested in having an intensely visceral theatrical experience would do well to check out the visually and verbally assaultive play Penetrator at the American Place Theatre.

"Intense" really is the operative word with Working Man's Clothes' latest offering. So is "visceral," for that matter. In fact, I may repeat these words a few times throughout this review.

Seriously, folks. This one ain't for the squeamish.

Apparently, Anthony Neilson's play, part of Britain's in-yer-face theatre movement in the early '90s, was originally written as a response to the 1991 Gulf War, but that seems a bit disingenuous. Those going to Penetrator expecting some sort of substantial political or social commentary will be sorely disappointed.

Simply put, the point of this play is to make the audience members squirm and feel their stomach muscles clench up. And under Jeremy O. Torres's direction and with the performances of the three actors, this production succeeds in doing that.

Whoa, boy, does it succeed.

Max, after playing a video game (as part of one of the most innovative pre-shows I've seen) and masturbating to some hardcore pornography, hangs out with his roommate and best bud Alan. The two of them act like typical directionless twentysomethings as they shoot the breeze, drink, quote The Big Lebowski and lament about their love lives (or lack thereof). Their quiet evening at home is interrupted by the surprise visit of Max's childhood friend, Woody, who has recently been discharged from the army.

As Woody gets settled in (since he needs a place to stay), both Max and Alan notice that Woody is, how shall we say, not quite himself. We're never 100% sure what (and neither for that matter are Max or Alan), but something...happened...to Woody while in the army that may have permanently changed him.

Then things get...well, intense.

The script itself is not the tightest or most thought-provoking piece of dramatic writing. There's not a whole lot of "meat" to the story and the ending is about as tacked on and from left field as you can get. However, the purpose of this play isn't to make you wonder about the dramatic arc, the problems with the military or the ties amongst friends. It's designed to make you be unable to breathe.

The three actors, Michael Mason, Cole Wimpee and Jared Culverhouse (all company regulars), do not pull their punches or shy away from being genuinely unlikable. In particular, Wimpee is quite scary as the unpredictably psychotic Woody.

This run of Penetrator is a prime example of an excellent production of a mediocre script. After seeing this and their recent fuckplays, I believe I'm in good hands whenever I see a Working Man's Clothes show.

Penetrator is playing through June 23 at the American Place Theatre on 520 Eighth Avenue. For tickets go here.

Hiding all my knives,

James "Best Bud" Comtois

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