Pretty Theft

Vampires were definitely my scare of choice as a little kid. They infiltrated my nightmares, and I used to be able to visualize them coming in to my room to munch on my neck. Mind you, these were real vampires – terrifying and silent, living (barely) on to feed on the blood of children.

I complained to Jordana the other day that vampires had been ruined. The Anne Rice novels certainly went a long way, and then even Bram Stoker’s Dracula was made into a movie with Winona Ryder (my porn of choice as a little kid) lusting after her bloody suitor. But Twilight? Come on, what exactly is so bad about being a vampire if you get to be super-fast, super-gorgeous, glittering in the sun, eating only cows and winning the triwizard cup. It’s annoying to have your sense of right and wrong so profoundly messed with.

Pretty Theft starts with this idea and runs with it. There isn’t a character in the play that doesn’t steal something from someone else, and each of them is doing it as an act of romantic compulsion. It’s as if every single person’s mind is a room with doors marked “Do Not Enter” and all of them have the same running thought in their heads, “who are They to tell me not to open this door!”

They make it out to be a lie. There’s nothing romantic about things stolen, about being stolen yourself… it’s actually a series of tiny nightmares. If you say to yourself, “these rules don’t apply to me!” then you are also agreeing, “okay, the protections are no longer mine either.” That’s not to say that if you shoplift, you deserve to be robbed at gunpoint or anything, but it is asking the question – Why is stealing important to you, and how much are you willing to risk to avoid your social responsibility.

It’s a fascinating exercise, as you’re being swept up in this perfectly pitched piece, to watch for every moment of thievery. There is shoplifting, there are sandwiches ordered which cannot be paid for, there is even a stolen car… but those are nothing compared to stolen moments, shared secrets, even kisses and embraces that are snuck in as if sheer audacity is all that’s needed to overcome a shattered social compact.

There isn’t a bad actor in this piece, anywhere. As a former actor, I’m always far more aware of the fact that the scene chewers usually have an *easier* job than those to whom the play happens, and Marnie Schulenberg does a masterful job of *not* chewing the scenery or anyone else in the play. I am always knocked out when an actor decides to fight the urge to fall apart, even when her character probably would. There is incredible strength in this performance, she has fought for honesty in every single second, and it’s a thrill to watch.

And, as much as I like to see someone control the throttle when the character calls for it, it’s equally compelling to see someone lay on the gas when the turns get tight. Todd D’amour is fantastic, like a coiled snake drunk on his own venom. He prowls like an animal, and he manages to chew his lines without spitting. There are two or three sentences that turn on a dime, and he has a knack for letting the most important chunks of the play just be, while manipulating other small bits of dialogue likes he’s feasting. There’s no sense of self-congratulation in his performance, he’s just wickedly precise.

The evening is wonderfully staged and produced, save for one problem. There are split scenes, with parts of the plot spinning like memories, ballerinas litter the place and the surreality runs thick, which is really, really great. The problem is that there is a scene that happens in another state, another literal state… like, say, a diner in Kansas. So you have scenes that happen in a theatrical head-space, and then a spilt scene with something that’s *actually happening*. At a later point in the show, characters from the one state show up at the diner in the other, and that’s your first hint that the diner is a real place, and not another bit of theatrical gymnastics.

However, I have to give huge props for the staging, which is fantastic through-out. I have said before, on these pages, that violence and nudity (which I enjoy ENORMOUSLY on screen) are both hard for me to take on stage. I can’t help it, I just look up there and say, “Hang on, that actor is, like… that’s a friend of mine! I don’t want to see her naked…” and stage combat is either very fake, or very real, and both of those upset me.

It sucks because… of course there’s sex and violence. That’s what makes the world go round. And there’s plenty in this show, BUT, they handle it exactly right for me. There is both sex and violence, but they stage it so you know what’s happening, and you’re never taken out of the play, you never worry for the safety of the people you’re watching, but the drama is razor sharp and the climax is still heart-shattering.

I know, I’m a prude. But primarily, I was an actor for years, and I’ve been a producer for years. If I could put a topless girl in every show, I’d sell a lot more tickets, but I don’t think I could watch it.

It would totally suck if I didn’t mention the other actors, but I run out of superlatives. Also, two of the cast members (Cotton Wright and Zach Robidas0 have worked with my company and I liked them enormously backstage, so my opinion of them (which is super high) is probably as much informed by that.

All in all, I’m just so knocked out by this play. It was worth going to the Access Theater, which I swore off years ago. Flux is continually blowing our minds with incredible work, and I’m so glad they are here and doing it.