nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
April 7, 2006
Rip Me Open—the latest offering of new work being presented in the Evolve theatre series at the Galapagos Arts Center—has all the thematic and plot devices of a classic film noir. There’s a sultry blonde with a sordid mystery and a wad of cash. There’s a cynical and disillusioned detective that gets played for a sap. There’s a dark and secret world of twisted and depraved love that the detective is gradually and inevitably drawn into, a world that challenges the detective’s safe routine.
But Sebastian Rumpford is not your typical blonde bombshell, and Lucinda Coolidge is not your typical private dick. The story begins when Lu (Desiree Burch), a brawny, strictly-business secret shopper who is a part-time freelance snoop, is approached by Sebastian (Michael Cyril Creighton), a soft and effete cream puff who wants to hire her to spy on his lover, the enigmatic Ian Leatherwood, described by Sebastian as a “pillar of smoldering manhood.” Although wary of a case involving a jealous lover, Lu agrees to take the job, but as she slowly gets sucked in to the sordid and sadomasochistic relationship between Sebastian and his mythically manly lover, it increasingly appears that Sebastian knows far more than he is letting on, and that involving Lu in his sexual escapades—particularly a mysterious sexual fetish he refers to only as “the Thing”—may be his goal all along.
Director Brian Mullin and playwright Kyle Jarrow have collaborated with Burch and Creighton to create this smart and sassy comic parody of the early noir detective films, and they’ve done a fine job tailoring it to the talents and personas of its two talented performers. Creighton, who possesses a brilliant sense of comic timing and delivery, oozes decadence and self-indulgence as he prances and preens his way from scene to scene, at one point delivering a hilarious karaoke parody of a noir cabaret starlet. But Burch keeps him from running away with the show by offsetting Creighton’s flamboyant performance with her tightly wound demeanor and cutting quips, such as when she tells Sebastian, “You drive a hard bargain for soft man.” The balance makes for great fun as the two set up an increasingly co-dependent but comfortably antagonistic relationship.
Not only have the two characters swapped gender roles, but they’re also incompatible in terms of sexual orientation, so it is a unique and surprisingly effective pairing considering Rip Me Open doesn’t rely on a simmering sexual tension between the two. But there is clear chemistry between Burch and Creighton, and part of what makes Rip Me Open so interesting is that underlying the edgy and zany comedy is a relationship between two vulnerable people who deal with it from completely opposite ends of the spectrum. The hard-nosed Lu armors herself against the world with a tough, masculine shell, spending her time as a secret shopper/private investigator exposing the secrets of others while keeping a tight rein on herself. Sebastian, on the other hand, wears his soft underbelly all over, and betrays a perhaps pathological need to expose himself. When you rip open Rip Me Open, you find that underneath the campy and enjoyable presentation is an exploration of two opposing yet symbiotic social and psychological forces. This exploration comes together beautifully in the end as we get to discovering just what “the Thing” that is done to Sebastian really is.
The cabaret-style theatre at Galapagos may be the perfect venue for this edgy and entertaining show, which at $10 has to be one of the best theatrical bargains in New York during the month of April. If you’re free during any of its remaining three Friday performances, it might be well worth your time to skip over to the north side of Williamsburg and elbow your way through the ultra-hipsters for a chance to see this great new work before it disappears or, hopefully, moves on.