Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
There is, I suppose, a theoretical limit to how funny a play about the 14-year-old still-unsolved murder of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey ought to be. The hoarse laughter of discomfiture or shock is so removed from the expression of spontaneously concentrated delight that it probably ought to have a different name, and predictably the former far outweighs the latter in Woolly Mammoth’s world premiere of Gregory S. Moss’ House of Gold. It’s a sort of JonBenét passion play that’s blacker than the cover of Spinal Tap’s Smell the Glove album and—despite the abundant care and invention with which it’s been written, designed, and performed—not significantly more insightful. We’re in the sociopaths-among-us suburban hellscape put memorably to film by David Lynch and Todd Solondz. But in this garish lampoon of America’s fascination with this particular child murder (2,000 children vanish per day, according to statistics in the cleverly-disguised-as-a-supermarket-tabloid program), there isn’t just one predator in JonBenét’s life—all the grownups are sickos. Without spinning a whodunnit, Moss conflates several theories of the crime involving a menacing stranger (loopy, quiver-voiced James Flanagan), a sexually abusive father (Michael Russotto), and a temper-prone former Miss West Virginia of a mother (Emily Townley), who blames her daughter for her own fading allure and who goes nuclear when JonBenét wets the bed or succumbs to stage fright at a beauty pageant. Even the detective investigating her murder (Mitchell Hébert) seems possessed of a slithering malevolence. When he autopsies the victim’s 45-pound body, removing organs that appear to be molded from brightly colored Jello-O and throwing them carelessly into a bucket accompanied by slurpy sound cues, you’ll likely feel whatever skin you’ve retained thus far crawl off into the lobby. JonBenét is played by Kaaron Briscoe, an African-American actress in a blonde beehive wig, and for all the reflexive layers of theatricality at work here, this one alone seems to carry some emotional heft. Meanwhile, Randy Blair’s Jasper—an obese white kid who smart-mouths his way through dust-ups with a trio of bullies clad in white like the droogs from A Clockwork Orange—pretends he’s black. You can understand why these kids would want to create a reality for themselves different from the dreary one they inhabit; the adults around them are absent except for when they’re completely monstrous. David Zinn’s four-level cutaway set suggests a life-sized dollhouse, and considered alone as a piece of sculpture, it would likely encapsulate much of Moss’s critique of, I guess, suburban alienation. Its artistry comes at the cost of moving the actors in most scenes farther away from us than they’d otherwise be (unless your seats are upstairs). These aren’t the type of people you want to get close to, but the fact that we never recognize even a flicker of ourselves within them is what keeps what’s intended as razor satire more on the level of a slasher flick.