Los Angeles Theater Review: TASTE (Sacred Fools)

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by Tony Frankel on May 2, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

WHAT DO YOU HAVE A TASTE FOR?

Six weeks before the opening of Sacred Fools’ cannibal play, one of Stage and Cinema’s writers (to whom I will assign the alias “Ethel”) asked if she could review Taste. I had not received a press release and knew nothing about it, so I let her have the assignment. Had I known that Stuart Gordon, director of the marvelous Re–Animator: The Musicalwhich I called a “comedy camp cult chiller classic,” was helming this world premiere, I would have taken it for myself. I was booked up anyway, so a friend and fellow reviewer joined this writer for the opening on April 11. She was so excited, I guess, that she even bought a third ticket for another companion.

Donal Thoms-Cappello and Chris L. McKenna in TASTE at Sacred Fools Theatre. Photo by Jessica Sherman

The next day, I phoned my friend. “Well?” I asked.

“It’s very disturbing,” were his first words. Then he went on to explain: “OK, it says right in the program that this is based on a true story, and it tells us what the story is. We know what it’s about before the show even starts, so no spoilers here.” He paraphrased the program: “In 2001, some German guy posted an ad on a website called The Cannibal Café looking for ‘a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed.’ He chose this guy named Jurgen, video-taped their one and only meeting, and—after murdering him—took ten months to eat this guy before being arrested and convicted.”

Intrigued? So was I.

Chris L. McKenna and Donal Thoms-Cappello in TASTE at Sacred Fools Theatre. Photo by Jessica Sherman

“The entire one-act, about ninety minutes, has two of the best performances I have ever seen on an L.A. stage. It takes place in Terry’s high-rise apartment where the guy Vic shows up to be killed and eaten. The set [by DeAnne Millais] is amazing: It’s a real working kitchen with frying onions, running water, and lots of knives.”

When it comes to good theater, I cut right to the chase. “So you recommend it.”

“Wellllllll, hold on. The script [by Benjamin Brand] works in fits and starts. It takes a while to get going, but once it does, you’re on board. But it’s very disturbing. I mean, c’mon, at one point…” And then my friend describes something which I consider to be a spoiler.

“I can’t believe you just told me that!”

“Oh, that doesn’t matter. I mean, it’s in the program, so you know what’s coming. But it’s disturbing. Audience members were laughing out loud from discomfort and a few even left the theater.”

“So you don’t recommend it.”

“Wellllllll, hold on. Just when you think it’s going to be some gory bloodbath, there’s an interesting insight into the relationship dynamics that sort of validates the whole play.”

“So you DO recommend it.”

“Wellllllll…”

“Oh, fer Crissakes!”

“Look, I think you should see it. But I wanna know what you think.”

Chris L. McKenna and Donal Thoms-Cappello in TASTE at Sacred Fools Theatre.

I immediately called Ethel. She also had the same good things to say about it, but found the script suffering in other areas. She thought it started great and sagged in the middle. “It’s definitely disturbing. But what disturbed me wasn’t so much what happened on stage, but that we as a public actually watch this stuff.” She was still collecting her thoughts and couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “This is basically a true story. I used to be a social worker and a lot of terrible stuff goes on out there, and I’m not so sure some of these events should be turned into an entertainment.”

“What about the [fill in my friend’s spoiler here]?”

“Yep. That really happened in true-life. The guy videotaped it.” Pause. “I have to think about it. There are things about the show to recommend, especially those two actors, but I don’t think I recommend the experience. Can I get the review to you tonight?”

“Sure,” I said. But the review never came. Since all of us work for free at Stage and Cinema, I can’t browbeat the writers for a tardy review. So, I cancelled another show to see Taste nine days after its opening, planning to review it myself. The day before I went, I finally heard from Ethel, saying she fractured her foot, making her unable to take care of anything but the most basic responsibilities. “I’ll have it to you in a few hours,” she said.

Chris L. McKenna Donal Thoms-Cappello  Photo by Jessica Sherman in TASTE at Sacred Fools Theatre. Photo by Jessica Sherman.

I saw Taste on April 20 fully expecting her review, so no notes were taken. Since then, I have contacted her with great concern more for her than the review, but my calls and emails have not been returned (today is May 2). I can only wonder that she subconsciously believes even writing a review somehow promotes an event that she thinks should not be witnessed. It calls to mind the exploitation documentary cult film, Faces of Death, which shows people actually dying before our eyes: One scene has a monkey’s brains being consumed right out of its head. It is widely believed that this and subsequent films are probably phony, but that hasn’t stopped the creators from making tens of millions of dollars. I have seen portions of this film and, whether it’s real or not, regret the horrific images that will forever live in my memory.

The images on stage at Sacred Fools will also be etched in your mind.

Donal Thoms-Cappello and Chris L. McKenna in TASTE at Sacred Fools Theatre. Photo by Jessica Sherman.

I see this as an event more than a traditional play. As such, I can overlook the script’s main problem: It tries to be both psychological character study and shocker, but has yet to find the proper balance. I love the black humor and plausible story line. And the stunning artistry from actors Donal Thoms-Cappello as the chef and especially Chris L. McKenna as the meal is not to be missed. But I understand the reluctance to recommend it.

The problem is that it is more disturbing than it needs to be. Tony Doublin’s special effects of blood and a wound are vividly realistic, but the gore took center stage, turning what could have been a psychological thriller into slasher theater. In addition, a gay porno film is played in full view of the audience, and I immediately was taken out of the show. Whatever happened to “panning the camera away?” Who am I to say anything bad about cocksucking, but this is a major reason why Taste can be stimulating but leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. It’s almost a shame that this potential-ridden project ends up as late-night Fringe instead of being truly provocative theater for the over-18 crowd.

Donal Thoms-Cappello, Chris L. McKenna in TASTE at Sacred Fools Theatre - Photo by Jessica Sherman.

Since the events depicted here actually occurred, I can see why Ethel wondered why we watch these horrifying happenings at all. Plenty of psychological studies have shown that males like scary films much more than females do. “It’s not that they truly enjoy being scared,” says Glenn Sparks, professor of communication at Purdue University. “But they get great satisfaction being able to say that they conquered and mastered something that was threatening. They enjoy the feeling that they ‘made it through.'” (With fascination, I discovered that there are plenty of words for people who get off on watching bizarre sex—prurient, paraphilia, voyeur, scopophiliac—but I could not locate a single word for someone who gets off on watching horror.)

TASTE at Sacred Fools Theatre in Los Angeles - POSTER

On the night I attended, the men outnumbered the women about 10 to 1, and one of the women departed during the show. Somewhat disturbing is that a gaggle of gay men attended as well, perhaps due to the homosexual nature of the two characters. The most searing image of the night was eight of them sitting together after the show, slack-jawed in stone silence and sickened disgust.

Will you enjoy this cannibal meal or give it the cold shoulder? Your reaction to Taste clearly depends on who you are. You may see it as a tasty event, a tasteless production, or something else altogether. Bon appétit!

photos by Jessica Sherman

Taste
Sacred Fools Theater Company
presented with the Schramm Group LLC and Red Hen Productions
660 N. Heliotrope Dr.
scheduled to end on May 17, 2014
EXTENDED to May 31, 2014
for tickets, call (310) 281-8337 or visit www.SacredFools.org
no one under the age of 18 will be admitted
for info on the real-life event (which contains the spoiler), visit Armin Meiwes

{ 2 comments }

Ruby May 20, 2014 at 10:09 pm

“Somewhat disturbing is that a gaggle of gay men attended as well, perhaps due to the homosexual nature of the two characters.”

Huh?

What’s disturbing about a bunch of guys going to a show? And, um, how did you know they were gay? Then again, news flash, there’s a stereotype that says gay guys like theater. Between this and your mention that a porno was played, you come across to me as homophobic. Seriously. So it’s no surprise that you had issues with a play about a search for intimacy and connection and truth between 2 men.

I saw it because I’m a fan of Stuart Gordon and Chris McKenna. McKenna’s performance is intense and astounding. It was completely jarring to see him all smiles while taking a bow just moments after the play ended.

I went back with a friend (straight if that’s important to you) because 10 days after I first saw it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was that compelling.

First time was with the understudy portraying Terry. The second time was with Donal. They were completely different takes on the same character. And Chris as Vic had to dance slightly differently with each.

The theater makes no mistake that this play is for adults, contains adult subject matter, themes and imagery. Heed their notice and challenge yourself to be immersed into a world you presumably (and hopefully) can’t relate to. It should be foreign to you. Revel in the performances and let the script take you into the characters’ dark places. It’s an experience you don’t get every day. We’re lucky to have a chance to witness it. Recommend it. Not everything has to be sunshine and lollipops to be worth your time and attention.

Jason Rohrer May 23, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Ruby, thanks so much for shining a light on Tony Frankel’s anti-gay rhetoric. Ever since his years as an AIDS activist and ACT UP organizer, there’s been a conspiracy of silence allowing this man to say whatever he likes about the gay community. Personally, I’ve long suspected that his love of musical theater was just an excuse to hang around straight people.

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