Monday, August 09, 2010

On-Stage: Princes of Darkness

It makes sense Lucifer would have a spot in his heart for those famously dressed in black. He can also appreciate the wreckage Hamlet and Dracula left in their wakes. As for Oedipus, even if his wardrobe was not black, he certainly took a long, deep look into the heart of darkness. Your master of ceremonies, the Trickster himself channels all three literary denizens of the dark side in Princes of Darkness, the latest genre stage production directed by Rachel Klein, now running at the Theater for the New City as part of the Dream Up Festival.

It is an age old complaint: the world is in abject chaos and God let it all fall to seed. Ever the Devil, Lucifer suggests those mortals in the audience could do a better job running the universe. Vanity has always been one of the more effective deadly sins. To make his point, he introduces three men born to rule, but whose lives produced suffering rather than nobility. Frankly, he is mostly contemptuous of Hamlet and Oedipus. Indeed, it is hard to argue with the way things worked out for them. Still, Dracula seems to get a pass. After all, vampires are all the rage these days.

Clearly comfortable with evil personas, Bill Connington has already made a name for himself in the New York theater world with Zombie, a one person show based on Joyce Carol Oates Jeffrey Dahmer-inspired novella. As Lucifer and his three witnesses, Connington is a disturbing presence, weirdly ingratiating but viscerally menacing. Indeed, Klein’s “choreography” has an appropriately serpentine quality as he creeps, slithers, and shambles across the stage.

Connington’s text posits some intriguing connections between the four brooding figures from literature (of course counting Lucifer from his appearance in Milton). Yet somehow though, the parallels break down with Stoker’s Dracula. Perhaps, that is because he never had a comparable epic fall from grace.

Frankly, the creepiest aspect of Darkness might be Sean Gill’s unsettling audio effects and Connington's reverberating voice-over narration. Even though the audience safely in the New City, the Don-Pardo-from-Hell effect could be mistaken for some weird Brooklyn warehouse happening. The production’s big sound might even have become taxing, if it were not a manageable estimated fifty-five minutes.

Darkness is the sort of intimate but ironic genre theater Klein has a real touch for. Though it is a work heavy on text and narration, she keeps it chugging along briskly. In fact, it is a surprisingly intense theatrical experience, despite its brevity. Now open, it runs at the New City through Saturday (8/14).

(Photo: Beau Allulli)