Author: Erik Satie
At: Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St. Tickets: FacilityTheatre.org; $25. Runs through: April 7
Camped out like a settlement of snobby hobos in the hoarded wreckage of an eccentric great aunt's estate sale, Facility Theatre's production of The Ruse of Medusa is an exercise in ( cue a bicycle bell that plays "La Cucaracha" ). Let me try that again: The Ruse of Medusa is ( cue the sound of the slap of a wet squid into fresh newspaper ).
It is very hard to pin an assessment onto a performance that embraces absurdism to the extent that director Dado, music director Sam Clapp and the entire artistic team have here. Why have an orchestra of men decked out in jade monkey masks? Why are some male roles played by women and not others? The link to mythology's favorite snake haired seductress is tenuous at best, so why evoke Medusa in the first place? This production answers every question with a resounding "Why not?"
It's best not to look for cohesive structure, or gravitate toward story, but if you must, I can help. The Baron Medusa ( David Cerda ) must entertain a suitor, Astolpho ( Laurie Roberts ) who has either come to court his adopted daughter Frisette ( Taylor Galloway ), or is just too overwhelmed to say otherwise. Making matters worse, the Baron's socialist manservant Polycarpe ( Jenni M. Hadley ) has begun to defect. Also, Jonas the Monkey ( Brian Shaw ) is there along with an orchestra/instrumental foley team. The whole endeavor doesn't take much more than an hour, including dance breaks, an audience costume change, free snacks and more nonsensical surprises.
What exactly makes a good performance in an absurdist landscape? Someone who can abandon all reason, sense and stakes just to get basic impulses across, I expect, and the whole cast rose to the occasion. As Baron Medusa, David Cerda goes so mad that it takes us to another innermost plane of existence. Taylor Galloway, as Frisette, and Laurie Roberts, as Astolpho, perform their mismatched genders as timidly as graceless newborn foals. Jenni M. Hadley plays Polycarpe with the closest thing to good sense and boundaries that this world can offer.
Director Dado gives us weird asymmetrical patterns and off-putting detachment, and inserts every tactic you could employ to annoy an audience; our unwilling participation, a distinct lack of rules and walls, and an ending that comes so abruptly, it feels like a trick. When the lights came up, I expected ushers to shout "surprise" and call us back for another disorienting act.