Visceral Company is kind of a broken record (if anyone still gets that technological reference)—one great show after another, each in a different way. Producer Drew Blakeman and director Dan Spurgeon have a good eye for material and a deft hand at staging, and their current production of Kill Me at the Lex Theatre demonstrates this nicely.
Kill Me follows the terrible aftermath of a near-fatal car accident. Cam (Natasha Charles Parker) and her girlfriend Grace (Jonica Patella) survive, but Cam has emerged from an exactly seven-day coma to describe a near-death experience unlike any other. She describes a strange alien world full of fears and wonders, and how some sort of creatures literally took away her capacity to die. Cam’s sister Wendy (Angela Stern), a pragmatic psychiatrist, tries to help Cam and Grace. But Cam is increasingly frantic about her inability to die (and wants to show them all how true this is, in grisly and heartbreaking manner), Grace is shattered by guilt and anxiety, and Wendy can’t believe that there may be some truth to what her sister says. Playwright Scott T. Barsotti (Revenants) has something to say to us about death, life and what’s in between, and the Visceral Company takes his words and gives them powerful, resonant impact.
From the start, the play takes off at a gallop and challenges the audience to follow. It’s better not to give away too much, but the text is dense enough that it seems we’re following three (or perhaps more) one-act plays at once… but in a good way. Stern’s Wendy is reminiscent of the Dysart character in Equus, and she does very well in conveying the conflicts between caring and smothering, rationality and rationalizing. Patella’s Grace, outwardly strong and reserved, is the show’s emotional heart, and I defy viewers to stay entirely dry-eyed as she struggles between saving the one she loves and saving herself. Finally, of course, there is Parker’s Cam—a pilgrim returned from a universal fear, turned into a mystery and hauntingly effective as someone who seems to be shouting at us from a great distance, perhaps drowning, perhaps waving or perhaps doing something entirely else…
(Of course, the way the play is written—especially in terms of perspective and time’s passage—leaves us with the further possibility that these are not three women but aspects of only one, a potential reading which is never completely resolved…)
The most theatrical touch in some ways, and one that’s uneven in its success, is the demonic Greek chorus performed in mime, dance and vocalization. The four Miseries—Paranoia (Yanna Fabian), Dread (Karen Nicole), Angst (Lamont Webb) and Despair (Alexander Price)—embody their respective emotional horrors well in the performance, but two things complicate their work. First, their costume and makeup design is somewhat exaggerated and showy, and doesn’t always convey fear so much as fascination. Second, Barsotti’s script gives them moments in which other characters literally echo their words, and it isn’t as effective as their dream-like, almost silent activities. When they work, which is most of the time, they underscore all the proceedings with a mounting discomfiture. When an off-note is struck in their staging, it reduces tension. (One of the Miseries had a costume flaw in this performance, which was mentioned by the producers beforehand. It was hardly noticeable, and isn’t what I refer to when I say that the costume design is not entirely on-target.)
The set is stark and foreboding from the moment you take your seat (a fine job by Ben Womick and Jana Wimer), and well set off by Dave Sousa’s lighting. Visceral’s usual marvelous sound design is also a welcome return with this production, although some of the sound cues are still a little rough around the edges. The Lex Theater also affords audiences the chance to enjoy a little of that “new theater smell,” since it’s almost completely refurbished now by Visceral—and it’s a fine venue.
Dark, provocative, unmistakably a creation of theater, Kill Me leaves the audience thinking and feeling. The play runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. (and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.), through June 2, at the Lex Theatre in Hollywood.