Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I Heart Catherine Pistachio: Save Us All

Walking out of I Heart Catherine Pistachio, my first thought was “What the ever-loving fuck was that?” My second thought was, “Damn, I really didn’t want that to end.”

Lee Mattinson's unusual, twisted play swallows you whole into an R-rated world of cruel parents, lost children, and bizarre circumstances. Imagine if Roald Dahl’s The Twits were two skinny blond-wigged men dancing like convulsive ballerinas dressed as Mennonite women, you may have captured some of the unexpected, anarchic, and dark world of this piece. Who could resist the pull of such an invented landscape?

Lionel and Linda are the parents to the eponymous Catherine. And hoo-boy do they not like their young daughter. Nick Blakeley and Carl Harrison play all the characters with venomous aplomb or sugar-rush excitement as is called for—including Catherine, her parents, Saved by the Bell's Mario Lopez (natch), Catherine's grandfather, and Catherine's pets. With different accents and mannerisms it’s clear upon each shift (thanks to Jen Malarkey's deft direction) that they are someone else. However, the play is built on quicksand and even if you get your bearings the bizarro happenings will keep you on your toes.

There are no taboos that this piece does not sink its teeth into. I'd be more specific but so much came flying at me so quickly I could barely hold on as I nearly fell off my chair laughing with one act more outrageous than the next. But suffice to say attacks on the most vulnerable (children and animals) are its stock in trade. Lee Mattinson's play finds exuberance in leaning into this cruelty, like a vampire licking his lips as the blood of a tasty morsel runs down his chin. The more horrified an onlooker would be at such misbehavior, the better the evil tastes. Yet, like the rubberneckers we are we can't help but watch and want to know how far is this going to go.

Turns out, really fucking far. You’ll never see Sticky Toffee Pudding on a menu again and not think of this show and a sickening laugh may creep up on you when you do. They are committed to taking it all the way. With unexpected flashes of aggressive movement (by Simone Coxall), in the Roundabout space these performances offer us no distance. Nearly on top of the front row, the in-your-face ideas meet an in-your-face presentation, with explosive success.

With each chuckle, chortle, and guffaw we enjoy (and there are many) we become more and more a part of the fabric of the piece. We can't help ourselves. For all the jaw-dropping content it's smart, funny, and blistering. But it would not exist without our participation and our enjoyment of the worst of humanity. Because for all the extremes on display, this work is strangely grounded in totally human world--a terrible, horrible place that could exist but viewed at from a comic perspective allows us a release and more importantly introspection into our own questionable complicity. A true piece of horror permits us detachment from "evil." But through comedy we think we may have that distance only to realize it's an illusion.

We can't stop picking at the scab of this performance and it feels really good to do so. Even if you know it is wrong. There does not seem to be a lot of work that tosses out the moral compass completely and where we have the liberty to enjoy spending some time in a morbid place that no one wants to be real. Yet, we just laugh and laugh and laugh until our sides ache and our heads hurt.

Meg Vaughan called the creators of this show “Brilliant sick fucks.” No argument here. But the real power in the piece is that with every snicker of the audience we cannot separate ourselves and claim any moral high-ground. In fact, we are reveling in this deviance and so who are the sick fucks, really?

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