It’s a madhouse. When you enter the Exit on Taylor to see Cutting Ball Theater’s world premiere of Krispy Kritters in the Scarlett Night by the company’s new resident playwright, Andrew Saito, there’s all kinds of unnerving behavior going on. There’s a legless old man in a wheelchair (David Sinaiko) hollering at people in a gravelly voice. Growling sounds pervade Cliff Caruthers’s sound design. An unstable-looking young man (Wiley Naman Strasser) is praying at the foot of a bed in the second floor of Michael Locher’s unnerving two-story set, with grungy brown walls and a white tile-lined staircase. A glamorous young woman (a magnetic Felicia Benefield) uses the bed to straddle some guy, a man in a suit (Drew Wolff) looks around fretfully, and people generally mill around in a volatile daze like inmates in an asylum.
The weirdness just gets weirder once the play actually starts. “Yompers yompers, fish heads in a can,” is the first thing we hear from Strasser as Drumhead, a crazed child-man who works in a morgue, where he talks to the corpses, calling them “captain,” steals from them and occasionally dry-humps them. His only friends are a collection of dead mice and other rodents that he keeps in cereal boxes, and he’s obsessed with Scarlett, a local prostitute of legendary allure. Strasser’s wide-eyed, twitchy craziness Drumhead is awfully entertaining, but it also makes you worry more about anyone that he comes into contact with than sympathize with him, and he’s pretty much the protagonist. Honestly, it wouldn’t be too surprising if he turned out to be a serial killer or something.
With elaborate cusses such as “Christ’s bleeding scrotum!,” his wheelchair-bound grandfather Pap Pap is no more stable, hording shoes for the day when he has feet again. He’s always mocking and playing tricks on Drumhead, and for a while they seem to capture and enslave a sidewalk-licking homeless man (Caleb Cabrera). Sinaiko does a good job making the leglessness credible, even though you can see his legs in black stockings, and he’s awfully amusing in his addled roguishness.
Others don’t have it much better. The sultry Scarlett has to play nursemaid to her ailing Gran Ma Ma (a vivacious Marjorie Crump-Shears), doting on her and giving her transfusions of her own blood while the grandmother’s nurse (a folksy but hard-edged Maura Halloran) guilt-trips her into donating more and more. It’s a vampiric relationship, all the more so because it seems like Gran Ma Ma got Scarlett into sex work in the first place. Oh, and there’s a particularly cartoonish recurring shtick in which Scarlett has to suck various animals out of her grandma’s ear through an ear trumpet (with plenty of slurping and popping noises from the ensemble). You know, like you do.
The nurse has her own problems; her husband is the latest of many men who have mysteriously turned up dead lately, their wedding rings missing, and she’s somehow mistaken Drumhead for a sheriff who’s going to crack the case. And then there’s Snowflake (Mimu Tsujimura), the heavily accented Asian hooker shivering the cold who has to beg for clientele because everyone wants Scarlett, and who latches onto Drumhead with ferocious clinginess. Plus there are the leering derelicts—at least I think they’re derelicts—waiting their turn with Scarlett, and her friend the chimp (Cabrera), who’s probably the most normal character in the play. Nothing good can come of any of this.
Everything’s highly agitated and absurd in Saito’s play, the language thickly poetic and surreal, and it’s all accentuated by artistic director Rob Melrose’s compelling staging. For all the gruesomeness that goes on, Krispy Kritters is ultimately goofy in its absurdism, and highly enjoyable if you like that sort of thing, which I do. But it’s strange to read the program notes by director Melrose and dramaturg Bennett Fisher that make the play sound as if it looks seriously at the plight of sex workers, people on the fringes of society, and the American health care system, all of whom come off as fairly monstrous in the play. It’s a claim to seriousness that seems even more absurd than anything going on onstage. If you’re looking for gritty social commentary, this would be a strange place to look.
Show #53 of 2013, attended May 23.