For those who live on the edge, preferring their theater in-and-out, quick, and espresso-flavored, there is Brick Alley Theatre, a pint-sized coffeehouse on St. Clair with Kerouac ambiance and a flexible arena stage suitable for all forms of human depravity, from folk singing to comedy improv. Proving that Cleveland Public Theatre doesn't hold a copyright on oddity, Brick Alley is presenting an excessively odd threesome of miniplays.
Constance Thackaberry is the ravishing daughter of a local acting dynasty. With waist-length auburn tresses and a willowy figure, she is a local Guinevere. This emerging actress works a fierce alchemy on audiences, turning the distaff side into jealous Circes and male audience members into panting Humbert Humberts. This actress has the supreme confidence of one who has been chosen by the gods, or she would not, of her own free will, be performing Allison Eve Zell's Come to Leave, a twenty-minute piece of idiotic buffoonery that rivals Konstantin's hellish play-within-a-play in Chekhov's The Seagull. Thackaberry pops out of a trunk in a witch's cape, walking about in a trance, as if doing Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking number. She obliquely discusses her college days and her obsession with Little Bo Peep, dropping decaying truisms ("Gray takes the falsity out of black and white") and chanting non sequiturs ("We have all come to leave").
It's a tribute to Thackaberry's unstinting charms that the audience remains benevolent and heaves sighs rather than vegetables. The play has been directed by one Neil Thackaberry, with the indulgent care that only a loving father can bestow.
Transporting the audience from the ridiculous to the horrifically sublime, Morality and Gadgets was written and performed by the deceptively ordinary-looking Steve Gall. His work is a fascinating meditation on the power that monster mythology exudes on the dispossessed.
Gall plays an alienated horror connoisseur who frequents comic book stores and science fiction conventions ("Every day I feel conspirators pass by my door"). His obsession with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein grows into a mania before the audience's ever-widening eyes. Out of chicken wire, he constructs a companion named Bob. Before long, Bob takes on a life of his own, demanding access to his creator's lost girlfriend. Gall even puts a hapless audience member on stage to become that girlfriend.
By evening's end, Gall has evoked the paranoia of Orwell, the irony of Kafka, and the satire of Huxley. He has just a touch of Orson Welles's baby-fat genius and Robert De Niro's imploding anger. His show is a spellbinder too powerful to escape, likely leaving all who see it in a metaphorical spiderweb for weeks.
Last of the trilogy is David Skeele's King of Sticks, a deluded but effective variation on Edward Albee's The Zoo Story. Thanksgiving in a deserted mill: An innocent new floor manager confronts a psychopathic worker. The suspense of the play revolves around whether the lion will eat the lamb or vice versa, and whether the rapist terrorizing the town is indeed one of these two possibly dangerous men.
Doug Rossi and Steev'n Eyerman play dexterously off each other, shooting off sparks like a Boy Scout Jimmy Cagney and Pat O'Brien. Artistic Director Christopher Nekvinda directs for all it's worth, creating an evening that veers surefootedly between black comedy and psychological suspense.
For those hearty devotees of midnight movie vulgarity, the Brick Alley Theatre is also presenting a late-night endeavor titled The Human Zoo. It is ninety minutes of breathtaking bad taste, where the poo-poo jokes, sodomite references, and hillbilly humor flow ceaselessly, like water out of a broken hydrant. To add to this exercise in bad taste are comedians that beg for the hook. The experience is like digging up the mummified corpse of burlesque.
Aficionados of early John Waters who thrilled to that cinematic sleaze epic Pink Flamingoes and thought that Divine's eating of dog feces was, well, divine, will find this evening to be pure ambrosia. The perfect date show if your inamorato happens to be a sleazeball.
Come to Leave, Morality and Gadgets, King of Sticks, and The Human Zoo, through March 21 at the Brick Alley Theatre, 4051 St. Clair Avenue, 216-432-3655.
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