Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Theater review: Local playwright’s Secrets of My Prison House astounds with absurdity
It's like Beckett, Durang and Carson McCullers meet Honey Boo-Boo.
LAS COLINAS A subversive, deranged, blissfully silly, tongue-in-cheek, pop culture farce, local playwright Ben Schroth’s Secrets of My Prison House is a gratifying show, weaving mythology with religion and Southern White Trash depravity with homocentric enlightenment. Beginning with an appearance by the legendary Cassandra (cursed with prophesies that no one believes) we find ourselves in the attic purgatory of a freakishly right-wing (“If you don’t hate the right people, you won’t go to heaven.”) family. Twin sisters Deb and Dot, along with other siblings, Darla, d’lizabeth, Dean and Deb’s husband Dobey are in a state of upheaval, frantically searching through boxes of belongings for a blue, limited edition, Fiestaware relish plate, worth thousands of dollars. Daddy lives inside a large cardboard box, and mama’s coffin (her funeral imminent) is center stage. He refuses to divulge the location of the plate. Decadent behavior abounds: incest, drug abuse, avarice, jealousy, bigotry and constipation. Everybody hates everybody. Especially, though they all hate Hermes, the gay prodigal son who left their midst long ago. They all laugh contentedly as they reminisce about an incident in which poor Hermes was caught in the middle of an “unnatural act,” chased, humiliated and beaten.
It should be noted that all these shenanigans occur in the context of shameless absurdity, which buffers the caustic content considerably. One has to wonder if Schroth’s numerous targets (Christian hypocrisy, materialism, heteromania) includes the current tendency to exploit the grotesque behavior of fringe dwellers, rabid to achieve stardom. We might expect the list of characters to include: Honey Boo-Boo, Tattoo Artists, Bikers and Moonshiners. The brilliance of Schroth’s comedy is his ability to create this dreadfully plausible Bizzaro World (to anyone from the Deep South) and suffuse it with deeper meaning. When Hermes (by far the most normal and well-adjusted character) returns to redeem his father’s soul, he brings along The Buddha, who tries to assist. After fruitless attempts to reach him, Buddah speculates: "Perhaps it's not a spiritual problem. Perhaps it's just bad taste."
There are numerous ways to describe Secrets of My Prison House. Perhaps it’s a twisted blend of Beckett, Durang and Carson McCullers. Maybe it’s a sly poke at the vacuous wasteland of populist entertainment. It could be a random, whimsical allegory on the nature of religious zealotry and genuine spiritual striving. Whatever might be lurking in Prison House’s subtext, the salient, preposterous spectacle before you will tickle and elate you, and who knows, maybe even distract from the prevailing chaos raging outside the theater space.
Pegasus News Content partner - Christopher Soden, Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner
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