nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
February 20, 2009
Quentin P., the lone character in Razors Edge Productions' dramatization of the Joyce Carol Oates novella Zombie, is a serial killer. He finds young men, mostly black, and builds a relationship to them from afar, stalking, but never speaking to them. He kidnaps the objects of his desire and brings them to the basement of his grandmother's house, of which he is the sole occupant and proprietor. He binds them, talks to them, tries to soothe them, and then lobotomizes them with an ice pick. His goal is to create a zombie, a slave to his sexual desires; a being he can control without having to cater to the emotional complexities of human beings.
If the actions just described seem horrendous, the appearance of the man perpetrating them is quite the opposite. Quentin P. is in his late 30s or early 40s. He is pleasant, unassuming. He wears an off-white button-down shirt beneath a light blue pullover sweater, straight-line beige pants, and very simple dress shoes (colors may vary; I'm slightly colorblind). He face is open, hopeful, and sweet. His voice is light and plaintive: his sentences move upward at the end so that statements come out as questions. He comes across as an insecure teenager in a grown man's body.
This juxtaposition makes Zombie a compelling endeavor. As he tells his story—his homosexuality was stifled early and often by a domineering father; he was teased relentlessly by other kids as a child; he lost love early and often; he is living in his grandmother's basement after his well-connected father procured him a two-year suspended sentence after a young black man escaped from his forced custody; his inspiration for creating his zombie came while recovering from a beating at the hands and feet of three black men—Bill Connington's Quentin P. comes across as a man-child vying for our understanding but never in need of our sympathies or compassion.
And strange as it may seem, it is not difficult to recognize certain aspects of Quentin's experiences. His wants and needs are not all that different from our own: He wants to love and be loved. He wants sex. He wants the acceptance of his peers and his audience. He craves tenderness and affection. But for some unspoken reason, Quentin's experiences and the make-up of his personality have left him unable to accept the complexities of his own emotions, empathize with the lives of others, and develop a socially accepted or acceptable moral compass.
Oates's Quentin P. is a synthesis of several serial killers. The program includes a quote from her book of essays, Where I've Been, And Where I'm Going: Essays, Reviews and Prose. "So the serial killer like Jeffrey Dahmer remains a riddle, a koan, not simply in human terms but in biological terms as well. We understand him, finally, no better than we understand ourselves." Connington's Quentin is a slightly different beast than the original—more reasoned, less elliptical—but this riddle remains intact. What's admirable in Connington and director Thomas Caruso's production lies in the handling of this mystery.
They don't attempt to answer the whys of Quentin P. They don't moralize or attempt to make the audience sympathize with him. This clinical production explores the nature of his personality, its conditions and responses. It took some courage for them to let Quentin have his say without hoisting overt judgments upon his story. This approach does sacrifice plot and dramatic action but in doing so, they acknowledge something profound and frightening about human nature: it is elusive, it can be unexplainable and, ultimately, it might very well be incomprehensible.
Following certain performances, Razors Edge has invited several psychiatrists to speak with audience members about their work with serial killers. The night I attended the play Dr. Alan Newman, a forensic psychiatrist at Georgetown University, spent 45 minutes discussing their biological, psychiatric, and cultural complexities. The discussion was a great companion to the play and shed light on the character and the behavior at its center.