Unfettered performances and arresting visuals give Gift of Screws life
Written and directed by Bill Marchant. Presented by Fish Is Productions. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, October 9. Continues until October 17
There’s vision here. How often do you get to say that?
The evening called Gift of Screws includes two one-act plays written and directed by Bill Marchant: What then must we do and Muzzle of Bees.
What then must we do opens the evening—too slowly, at first. A woman delivers a turgidly symbolic speech about throwing “the thing”, apparently a baby, off a cliff as her colonel lover looks on. Her delivery is so stentorian that you know she has to be an actor and, sure enough, Smith, her director, interrupts to give notes.
For a number of scenes, the play presents the director’s pompous, abusive nature. Unfortunately, this examination is obvious and less than dynamic—at least until the director is left alone with Freddy, the actor who plays the colonel. All of a sudden, surprises open up, and successful comedy comes with them. In the pithiest exchange of the evening, Freddy exclaims, “Don’t manipulate me!” and Smith replies, “That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?” It’s true: the actor-director relationship is about willing submission to manipulation—much like the relationship between audience members and performers, or what passes between lovers. The creation of realities involves willing self-deceit, through which we pour inarticulate needs.
As the story ripens and spins into ever more violent extremes, the comedy thrives because the artists clearly regard the carnage as part of a regular day’s work—although at one point, the stage manager declines to participate in a murder because his union won’t allow it.
In an unfettered performance, Daniel Letto lets ’er rip as Freddy, with hilarious results. Nadine Wright is strong as Linda, the female actor, but Marchant gives the character an inconsistent voice—sometimes colloquial (“Really? Get out!”) and too often baroquely indirect. Overall, that’s a weakness in Marchant’s writing: he’s in love with his alliterative, rhyming, repetitive style. Stephen Park falls under the sway of this artifice; because it’s so declamatory, his work as Smith is dully unresponsive.
Muzzle of Bees is arresting but problematic. Naked men wear black sacks over their heads. The imagery is borrowed from Abu Ghraib, but it’s used to make a point about how we imprison ourselves psychologically.
As in the paintings in which Attila Richard Lukacs eroticizes neo-Nazi thugs, the visuals here are compelling—there’s beauty in the way that Marchant and his actors explore the sculptural qualities of naked bodies—but the imagery from Abu Ghraib is too important in its original context to be reduced to a self-indulgent metaphor that reflects the experience of a vastly more privileged population.