City Paper is not for tourists
Clive Barker’s Crazyface Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman Presented by Constellation Theatre Company At Source Theater to June 14
Horror noveli—excuse me—dark fantasy novelist Clive Barker’s 1982 play is a mess, but Constellation Theater sets out to make it a gorgeous one, bringing a dose of the fabulous to Barker’s kitchen-sink fabulism. The company’s proprietary mix of technical chops and visual flourish helps keep this less-than-coherent tale on its feet, though the path it walks is long and twisted.
Not “twisted” in the sense Barker fans might expect—no pin-headed, fishhooked Cenobites show up to raise hell, and the really bloody stuff happens offstage. Oh, there’s plenty of torture and murder to go around—this is, after all, the Spanish Inquisition. But director Allison Arkell Stockman aims to unsettle, not merely shock—so instead of Grand Guignol gore, she lets A.J. Guban’s lights and Tom Teasley’s music attend to the business of creeping us the hell out.
I hear you asking, “Yes, yes, but is there juggling?”
Yes. There is juggling. And mime, and clowning—lots of clowning, in fact, in several different forms, so coulrophobics: Time your meds.
Half-witted Tyl Eulenspiegel (Ashley Ivey), cast from his village when his religious visions spook the local townsfolk, gets beset by bandits, witches, pig farmers, spies, clown-faced murderers, pantomime horses, catamites and Cardinals, and ultimately finds himself drawn into an international struggle over the mysterious contents of a small wooden box. Perhaps you begin to spot the problem.
Actor Joe Brack, as an angel who dogs Tyl throughout the play, supplies a refreshingly sardonic presence—and if you’re wondering how sardonicism can be refreshing…well, it’s a tone thing. The rest of the cast has been directed to evince the exaggerated performance style of commedia dell’arte (read: there’s lots of screaming). Against such a mannered backdrop, Brack’s more naturalistic delivery goes down easy, and neatly isolates his character from the frenetic atmosphere director Stockman serves up. It’s an admirably efficient dramaturgical trick.
But try as it might—and it really, really tries—the production’s constant, high-decibel onstage tumult can’t quite distract attention from the fact that Barker’s script is little more than a jarringly disjointed collection of sketches: Confessor Torquemada’s Flying Circus.