February 9, 2014 - The squalid apartment that greets the audience as they arrive for Interrobang Theatre Project's The Pitchfork Disney only hints at the sickness festering among the characters of this darkly challenging production.
Twins, Presley and Haley Stray, have been living in the filthy, trash-filled unit since their parents died ten years ago. Without them, the twins have become frighteningly dependent on one another, terribly suspicious of outsiders, and trapped within a daily spiral of candy, drugs and a penchant for terrifying apocalyptic stories. When the brash Cosmo Disney appears, their small, ugly world explodes into a tantalizingly horrific nightmare that is at once repulsive and magnificent.
The Pitchfork Disney aims to elicit a visceral reaction from the viewer. Appaulling tales of animal cruelty, dreams of torture and pain, and (most famously) the cockroach-eating Cosmo Disney all exist to disgust and intrigue audiences. We're supposed to be shocked by this world of fear and filth. We're supposed to feel in our bodies what the characters feel on stage. Could we ever devolve into the decay and debauchery of this world? Perhaps that's the most viscerally jarring notion of all.
At the center of The Pitchfork Disney is Fred Geyer's powerful portrayal of Presley Stray. In a production where the characters aren't exactly likeable, Geyer manages to develop Presley into a freak show of a man we simply can't turn away from. Geyer is boyish, pitiable, and repellent as Presley, and he navigates the unusual story without judgement. Aislinn Kerchaert as Haley Stray is also compelling, and Kevin Webb's Cosmo Disney gives the production a potent (albeit cheeky) energy. Mark Lancaster's brief appearance as Pitchfork Cavaliere is both frightening and heartbreaking. Pitch is a modern-day Frankenstein, a monster feared by all and understood by few.
Members of the production team have outdone themselves in creating the rotting, sordid environment of the play. The incredible mess of a set is superbly detailed. Trash abounds and a stunning amount of dingy patina encrusts every inch of playing area. The simple but effective lighting design relies heavily on lamps and other practicals that the actors can control and refocus. The production is incredibly cohesive, and there isn't a misstep where design is concerned.
The real flaw lies in Philip Ridley's script itself. While the “in yer face” technique is an interesting exercise, it's difficult to sustain. Instead of shocking the audience into seeing the horrors of the world around us, the heavy-handed storytelling meant to be edgy ultimately becomes cloying. We see the playwright's hand everywhere, telling us what to think, telling us how to feel. The script feels like the work of a young writer working through the bluster and bombast that will ultimately lead to more sophisticated writing.
The Pitchfork Disney is not a play for the faint of heart. It is a world of terrible sadness and despicable characters. While the script is far from perfection, Interrobang Theatre Project has created a bit of theater that will linger long after the curtain call.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
(L-R) Aislinn Kerchaert and Fred Geyer in Interrobang Theatre Project’s production of The Pitchfork Disney by Philip Ridley (photo by Emily Schwartz).
Theater Review: by Leslie Price