During the moments before One Year Lease Theater and The Tank‘s, Eat The Devil took off on its bizarre journey into the abyss, I was schooled by my theatre companion on two concepts I was not even vaguely aware of. But there they were, projected larger than life onto the white screen monitor during the pre-play moments. Edited dynamically, courtesy of Scott Fetterman, the video streamed forward images of fainting goats and people dressed up in animal costumes parading around quite festively, yet something told me it was also pretty sexually adult in nature. I had to ask, as these images represented concepts I had not seen before, but my companion knew of them somehow, informing me that both are ‘things‘ and that, I will tell you, is “worth googling“.
Goats freeze when frightened. News to me. And there are people who call themselves ‘furries‘ who like to dress up in, you guessed it, furry costumes of animals they internally relate to. I’m still not sure if it’s a lifestyle choice or a sexual fetish, but it is definitely a ‘thing‘ , and one I had yet to come into contact with, surprisingly, as I am a psychotherapist, and I’ve heard of a lot, trust me. My companion then told me a story, about a friend who found himself out on a first date with a self-proclaimed ‘furry’, and this new friend wondered if that news was ok with him. Now, I’m not here to shame anyone, but what do you think would be your response to a question like that on a first introductory date? I’ll leave that to your imagination, but maybe, somewhere in that predicament is where playwright partners, Nadja Leonhard-Hooper and Dan Nuxoll came up with this strange concoction of a play; to dissect and investigate the fear of being shamed and ostracized by being one of the ‘those‘, while adding in another construction centered around Artificial Intelligence ‘sex Robots’ and the corporations surrounding their infiltration into our daily lives. But wait, don’t “put your chips away” just yet, cause this “shaky take off” is just getting started.
Somewhere between the big boy pauses, these two topics collide in the sky up above with other topical manipulations, such as ‘sex ghost‘ attacks, an animalistic virus infecting the masses, and a particularly odd futuristic idea of what an airline flight might look like in the future (I certainly hope not). The new play tries desperately to make a commentary and a political statement about all the above, Tomi Lahren, portrayed by Jenna Rubali, and apocalyptic food salespeople, Jim and Tammy Bakker, played by Ben Fine and Emily Via. The wild experiment that is Eat The Devil is as strangely brewed as you can image by the description. The whole stew is chock full of preposterous political wit and smartly tuned asides about right-wing online fear mongering and YouTube sensationalists. There is gold in some of the statements, but sadly the pot is too full of contrasting ideas and nonsensical modes and equations that the 100 minute flight lingers far too long, making me wonder when this journey would be over and I could disembark.
The actors are all game and total up to the manic synchronized energy that is being thrust upon them. They believe, strongly, and are doing their best to inhabit the caricatures with humor and edge, but the acting style that is being pulled by director Nick Flint veers too broadly towards loud and screaming, desperate for the joke or the jab. It makes sense, in a way, as Eat The Devil digs in to the right-wing alarmists with glee, but the manic energy bleeds over to the others, especially the ferociously overdone Goatse, inhabited by Nathaniel Kent, and the overly excited and sexualized flight attendants, portrayed by Emily Via, Kev Berry, who distract more than enhance. The one arena that feels the most interesting and grounded is the pin point of light that focuses on the dynamics between Mia, the sex robot, well crafted by the acrobatically gifted and emotionally elastic Kelindah Schuster, and her programmer, Penny, solidly portrayed by Lexie Braverman. Their interactions disperse with the false pretenses of flagrant unnecessary energy, and gets into the messy madness of the organic. The two steer clear of the “kill switch“, and focus their engagement on the more compelling themes of this tale. This side story has buried within her programing the most compelling of ideas, especially when Mia, beautifully costumed by Kenisha Kelly, interacts with Penny’s geeky co-worker sweetly played by Rory Spillane. In that conceptualization a kernel of humanity and clarity can be found, even if it balances on the slim edge of the dynamic.
Oh, my, my Mia, on a modernist conceptualization of the future, staged with a strange semi-constructed simplicity by James Hunting, with cleanly focused lighting by David Shocket and sound by Brendan Aanes, Eat The Devil never seems like a fully formulated meal, with far too many ingredients and flavors added to the pot haphazardly and without a clear vision of the future. It’s numerous different dishes on a bizarre buffet in the apocalyptic future. Some may like the variety, but others might be lost, so board this flight with caution. The vehicle and the experiment doesn’t exactly go down in flames, but the destination is foggy and unsure, and the attending are far too manic and misguided to make this flight an enjoyable politically-fueled adventure to a strange place far far away. If I were a goat, I’d faint (but I ain’t no furry).
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