Plays for the Poor Theatre
nytheatre.com review by Brian Rogers
August 15, 2004
There is a remarkable bit of stagecraft in the second hour of Plays for the Poor Theatre, cellarDoor's revival of two1960s Howard Brenton shorts. Involving a grotesque life-size puppet made of steel wire, it's the best kind of theatrical invention: simple and (genuinely) surprising.
The plays seen here—Gum and Goo, a prolonged nightmare seen through the eyes of an autistic girl; and Christie in Love, an investigation into the sexual proclivities of the notorious London serial killer John Reginald Christie—make Brenton's influence on a younger generation of British playwrights (most notably Sarah Kane) amply clear. They're knotty, imagistic, rough, brutal, poetic, and difficult to watch (that's a compliment).
The infamous steel wire puppet makes its appearance in Christie in Love, and transforms what could have been a sort of garden variety psychosexual crash course (so many serial killers on stage these days) into something far more unsettling. Director Lydia Steier—an American living in Berlin—meticulously strips away the play's human face, and in its place gives us a sort of terrifying blank slate. We stare into the abyss and what we see is: us. The worst side of us.
This moment far outpaces anything else on display in this two-hour exercise. Though performed with great skill (and an unnerving level of physical commitment) by a cast of four (in particular, Simon Newby as John Reginald Christie is uncomfortably successful), Steier's productions offer little in the way of visual ingenuity or revealing choreography. It's a long, messy affair, which though arguably appropriate to Brenton, is needlessly repetitious and frustratingly slow. It's clear that Steier's got something interesting up her sleeve. But she chooses, here, to keep it mostly to herself; prompting me, as I exited the theater, to ask: "what could have been?"