Playwright: Philip Ridley
At: The Broken Compass at Peter Jones Gallery, 1806 W. Cuyler
Phone: 773-772-0712; $15
Runs through: May 19
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
When the press for a show's premiere invokes the name of crash-and-burn icon Sarah Kane, whose suicide spawned a rash of nihilistic cries of despair among Angry Young English playwrights and their followers, we know to expect punked-out urban working-class youths engaged in slackerly housekeeping, co-dependent dynamics, sexual violence, candy-pop drugs and obscenity as baroque and polysyllabic as a Bach fugue, all leading to a resolution involving multiple corpses and gallons of blood.
Philip Ridley's Mercury Fur has the requisite elements: We first meet brothers Elliot and Darren, a George-and-Lenny team employed by the streetsmart Spink, whose transvestite sibling ( named—what else?—Lola ) is Elliot's special friend. Outsiders include Naz, the waifish boy-next-door who bonds with Darren, a blind old lady who might be Elliot and Darren's mother, and Spink's client, a buttoned-down bureaucrat eager to act out his secret desires. Oh, yes—and there's the kidnapped child who mercifully dies before learning HIS role in the recreational pastime.
Is a teenager murdered for commercial purposes any worse than a daughter sacrificed as a war tactic by Agamemnon? Is offstage torture any more revolting than the eye-gouging scene in King Lear? Our literature—indeed, our world—is riddled with atrocities, Ridley asserts, citing an actual incident in Rwanda as the basis for Darren's tale of a spontaneous massacre erupting in a supermarket. The free-flying 'butterflies'—inducing psychotropic reactions after ingestion—are also inspired by real-life events, says the author, as is the customer's fantasy of Elvis Presley in the jungles of Vietnam. This is a universe where fact and fiction blur; geographical and chronological boundaries have broken down; and, with them, all civilized restraints.
Maintaining suspense during this squirmy brand of moral instruction is often difficult for young actors inclined toward expressing their own repugnance for these unsavory characters. Under Greg Beam's direction, however, a cast led by Broken Compass company members James Errico and Brian Kilborn ( featuring a sleek drag turn by Casey Chapman ) immerse themselves in their personae, with never a therapeutic wink to their audience. And if Ridley's diatribe can't help but recall other plays of the drag-'em-through-the-gutter-and-kick-'em-in-the-teeth genre, the timeliness of its lesson was evidenced on opening night by the lady sitting next to me ( a nurse, she said, accustomed to sanguine spectacle ) , who was reduced to tears well before the final curtain. Sophocles himself couldn't have asked for a more viable catharsis.