Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Blackout Theatre's Say You Love Satan at the Filling Station
The show closed Sunday, so spoiler alert! Here's the full plot. Andrew (Michael-Ray Carter) is a twinkie gay graduate student in Baltimore who doesn't know what he wants. He is in a pseudo-relationship with Jarrod, played by DeSean Payne. Jarrod is the salt of the earth nice guy who loves to nurture babies, buy Andrew his favorite Dostoyevsky books, and be really attentive. Chad (Daniel Garcia) is Andrew's hot former narcissistic actor boyfriend who thinks that Andrew is still obsessed with him. Bernadette (Rhiannon Frazier) is the quintessential, boyfriendless 'mo lover and former cult member. Andrew is just not that into Jarrod, but he likes the favors and attention. (Who of us hasn't dated someone like that?). Bernadette really thinks that Jarrod is a keeper and doesn't understand why Andrew just won't call him his "boyfriend." Just when things seem altogether boring and confusing for Andrew, along comes the shirtless, hippie-esque Jack whom Andrew meets while waiting out the spin cycle at the neighborhood laundromat. There is an immediate connection between the two, and in true gay club spirit, they quickly become an item, celebrating their relationship with dinner and dancing every night of the week. Andrew's ideal date would be a visit to the zoo, then dinner, perhaps followed by dancing. Jack hates the zoo, mostly because his presence elicits a violent reaction from the animals. The hammerhead sharks ram the aquarium windows with their heads when he's near. Oh, yeah, when dawn comes, Jack develops a pronounced limp. This is just a typical day in the life of the son of Satan, who, in his own words, isn't anything like his father. As a matter of fact, Jack spends his time trying to be the opposite of his father and clean up his father's messes. This is what he tells Andrew. But, who is Jack really, and what does he want with Andrew?
As the play unfolds, the audience discovers through interactions between Jack and the other characters that Jack isn't the son of Satan, but the horned trickster himself, who has come into Andrew's life to force him to help with a darker purpose. This involves stealing a sacrificial baby so that Jack can continue to be young. After all, Jack is two millennia old but looks thirty-five, and we all know that if you're gay and over 35 it's best to find a new, younger host body! In the end, Andrew and his friends, the ones that are still alive, dupe Satan by befriending and soliciting protection from an angel. Satan vows that Andrew and he will see each other again.
While Aguirre-Sacasa's writing isn't stilted, it hits the audience over the head with what it means to say. Say You Love Satan wants to be morea narrative about man's inner struggle with trying to stay virtuous. The play also has a sitcom quality that doesn't seem to transfer to the stage. Everyone knows the literary themes that we learned in English class: Man versus Man; Man versus Nature; Man versus Himself. While the play deals a bit with Man versus Himself, it seems more focused on Man versus His Penis, which becomes boring. The play is a comedy, but I think I only laughed once or twice. It should be mentioned that I was the only one to guffaw during the Rosemary's Baby reference (the son of Satan's Blu-Ray collection contains only the finest in Satanic-themed movies which he doesn't really think of as "horror"). Could it be I was the oldest person in the audience? It wasn't until the actors mentioned The Omen and The Exorcist that everyone else laughed. Could my host body be outdated too?
In general, an actor is only as good as the script with which he or she has to work. The strength of the Blackout Theatre production was the caliber of the actors whom director J. Nicole Duke put together to breathe life into the playwright's one-dimensional characters. Duke is a fine director and, in spite of the script, her leadership made for a fluid performance. Her actors seemed well-rehearsed and comfortable on opening night, which is not always the case. Michael-Ray Carter's nerdy portrayal of Andrew made the inner turmoil caused by his desire to switch over to the dark side more realistic. DeSean Payne created a multi-dimensional Jarrod, which made his performance one of the best. Rhiannon Fraizer's Bernadette added to the humor with some funny one-liners that were delivered with nice comic timing. Daniel Garcia managed his multiple roles well and was particularly hilarious as Chad, Andrew's ex. Zachary James Sears, while perhaps physically not what the playwright had intended when he wrote Satan so many years ago, oozed creepy and mysterious. A very able actor, Sears even had me buying into the fact that there might be chemistry between him and Carter.
Katy Bowen's costumes blended effortlessly into the production. The highlight of the show was Heather Yeo's set design, which was its own character. What's more, it overcame the sightline limitations of the Filling Station, ensuring that every seat in the house was a good one. Often times, Albuquerque theatrical sets scream low budget, but Yeo's design really brought the audience into the action with lively color. The animated club dancer figures digitally projected on the back walls during certain scenes was a nice touch and added energy to the slower paced scenes.
Overall, Say You Love Satan was mildly funny. With a one-hour thirty-minute run time, it was a nice break from a stressful day, though it left me wanting more, especially given the strong talent pool onstage. As actors, they deserved better material. For more information about the Blackout Theatre visit www.blackouttheatre.com.
-- Paul Niemi