Monday, August 10, 2009

Put My Finger In Your Mouth

Bob Fisher's play, Put My Finger In Your Mouth, is a delightful Neil Gaimanesque fairy tale about two sisters confronting loss and the forces of evil in polar opposite ways. It deftly walks the line between contemporary real world story and mythic fable without being confusing, cloying or self-indulgent.

In this lurid fairy tale, the aptly named Turtle (Stacie Hauenstein) has retreated into the safety of "clean living." She cooks. She cleans. And most importantly: she never leaves the house. Her younger sister, Birdy (Erin Elizabeth Orr), is the wild child who goes out to this goth/punk club every night, much to Turtle's chagrin.

At the club, Birdy meets and is instantly taken with Snailman (Emily Mark), the club's mesmerizing and intimidating owner. Snailman seduces Birdy by convincing her to suck hallucinogens off of Snailman's fingers (hence the title). Instantly, Birdy is addicted: to the drugs, Snailman, and the lifestyle.

Meanwhile, trying to help the sisters get out of their equal yet opposite personal hells is Boxman (Neal Tucker), a hobo living in a giant cardboard box who sells drugs and asks Birdy to, um, pose for photos for him. Yes, he's trying to help these two.

Thanks to Fisher's script, Nathan Robbel's smart and slick direction and the ensemble cast, Put My Finger In Your Mouth has a whole lot of style and doesn't get too caught up in its own aesthetic, which is a fancy way of saying it remains coherent and doesn't crawl into itself.

Some reviews found the story treading too close into "Afterschool Special/Just Say No" territory. I disagree. I liked how the story remained very simple and engaging throughout. I enjoyed that this oddball fairy tale had roots in the real world. Plus, the play takes great pains to show that neither Turtle (afraid of the world and hiding from it via a Donna Reed lifestyle) nor Birdy (going to the club every single night) are living ideal lives. Finally, it doesn't seem that Fisher & Co. have any real interest in celebrating or denigrating the clubbing/drug culture. Seriously, folks, this is a fable; there are clear cut heroines and villains (and even the heroines in this fable are far from flawless).

Everyone in the cast — which also features Christian Kain Blackburn, Morgan Christiansen, Jesse Neal, Catherine Price, Amy Sokol, and Conor Woods — is good, clearly having fun with their roles. Sarah Elizabeth Miller's inventive design transforms the tiny performance space into Alice's Wonderland by way of Blade Runner.

If there's one minor criticism I have, it's that the play is too coy with Boxman's backstory. The show hints at what his connection to the sisters is, which is a potentially huge one with a potentially huge impact on the show, then brushes it off. I think this needs to be either made more explicit or played with more. In fact...

[MAJOR SPOILER BEGINS HERE] The show hints that he's the girls' father, and he denies this, since he clearly has prurient interests in the girls. Now, if he is in fact their long-lost father, the fact that he enjoys having them pose in highly sexualized positions opens a huge and ugly can of worms for the character. If he's telling the truth and is not in fact their father, then why bring it up, especially since the subject is dropped as quickly as it's brought up? [MAJOR SPOILER ENDS HERE]

Now, this is a very, very small piece of the show, which is a great deal of fun. I mean, hey, it's a fable that features a war between Goths and Furries. Tell me that doesn't sound intriguing.

Put My Finger In Your Mouth runs Fridays and Saturdays at 10 p.m. at RBP Rorschach at 4001 N. Ravenswood in Chicago. Closes August 29. For tickets go here.

Sucking on fingers,

James "Raver" Comtois

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