REVIEW: Adore (XIII Pocket Theatre)

Not your dad’s idea of a dinner date.

Adore3

Thirteen Pocket (XIII Pocket) presents:

Adore

Written and directed by Stephen Louis Grush
Through April 25th at
Steppenwolf Garage (more info)

by Ian Epstein

What is palatable theater?  Can a show about cannibalism be savory and wholesome?

XIII Pocket‘s Adore, a multimedia mix of stage and screen raises questions like these.  It’s one of three shows being performed at the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre in repertory as part of their Visiting Company Initiative and it tells the star-crossed love story of Armin (Eric Leonard) and Bernd (Paige Smith). In Adore, writer/director (and Artistic Director of XIII Pocket) Stephen Louis Grush paints a disturbing psychological portrait of two men whose definitions of love converge not in the bedroom but on the dinner plate.

Adore2 Armin is a modern German citizen — and he would also lead us to believe that he’s a cannibal trapped in the body of a mild-mannered, small-town German citizen since his birth.  And it’s notable that Armin lives in a little village down the street and around the corner from a house once occupied by the Brother’s Grimm. Armin talks straight to the audience in a rambling, psychologically revealing monologue that tells his story and his character. 

He badly wants to be in love.  He has been looking for a long time – his whole life, even – but he’s never found that perfect dinner date. He explains this, mixed in with other digressions, in his monologue and at times illustrated by projections onto a gorgeous gilt-framed movie-screen.  The digressions are balanced and delivered to elicit a certain amount of sympathy for this lovelorn, anthropophagic character. Armin sees the consumption of a lover as an act of all-consuming love.

Then we meet Bernd — a tight-lipped, in-the-closet, Berlin businessman who is restless and bored with a life that he knows is enviable and a lover he knows is dedicated. Paige Smith is a brilliant Bernd, bringing a lightness to the character that even elicits laughs.  He does a wonderful job speaking in dialog to pre-shot movie footage and not having it sound affected or interruptive. At the end of the day, Bernd just really wants to be eaten.

Adore1Through the decentralized, anonymous, immaterial monolith that is the internet, Armin awkwardly meets Bernd, his true love, who is the man that he will eat for dinner.

Adore feels like it’s set in one of those dark, fraying, seldom-seen corners of the mind.  It takes all the ephemeral strengths of live theater and blends them with horror-movie-like traumatic flashes and flashbacks. 

Technically it’s very strong; Adore blends stage and screen with effortless naturalism — something that’s very often attempted but usually ends up failing.  But form aside, Adore is a show with content that’s tough to handle.    It’s technically admirable qualities emphasize the disturbing core of the story: people who willingly undertake an act of anthropophagy as love.  Adore strays inadvertently into the tradition of playwright’s like Sarah Kane or Antonin Artaud with his Theater of Cruelty, where theater is used like a violent shake to wake up a sleeper. 

Is Adore an accurate title?  Dangerous question.

Rating: ★★½