It's hard to conceive of a more bizarre and revolting tale than the one re-imagined in Taste, Benjamin Brand's reality-based play about a pact between a man with cannibalistic desires and the willing victim he solicits on the internet.
The actual event - preserved by the perpetrator on videotape - took place in Germany in 2001, and included a mutual agreement to begin their enterprise by severing and then jointly dining on the victim's penis.
Brand spotlights the incident in the play, which emerges not as the egregious gore-fest I had anticipated with some dread but as a discerning (if stomach-churning) drama, featuring two of the best performances I've seen in a while.
At the core of the show's black humor is the odd-couple polarity between Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello), a brisk Felix Unger type who listens to opera and loves gourmet cooking, and his guest, schlubby Vic (Chris L. McKenna), a miserably unhappy man who's arrived that evening determined to end it all, as painfully and graphically as he can.
Besides self-annihilation, Vic is also searching for something else he's never experienced - a friend. It turns out that beneath his take-charge exterior, Terry is also acutely wanting in that department. The juxtaposition of little-boy loneliness, prim narcissism and bloodthirsty obsession is absolutely fascinating. While you may be horrified, you yield as Brand's script transports you into dark and ghastly grottos of the human psyche, transforming the hitherto inconceivable into the distinctly possible.
Whom does one credit for this exceptional theatrical experience? The answer is everyone. Under Stuart Gordon's superbly understated direction, Brand's incisive dialogue flows as naturally as if his subjects really were just two anxious guys simply looking to bridge their strangeness. (" I'm a bit chewy," says Vic, as they share a laugh over his sautéed member.)
Things grow weirder and weirder, but the performers never misstep by overplaying, nor do they ever shed the humanity that draws us into their story.
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Sacred Fools Theatre Company 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; through May 17. (310) 281-833,sacredfools.org.
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