note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Karine Albano
Sound Design by Vladimir Aseneta
Fight Director Dan Zisson
Stage Manager Tracie Santiago
The climax --- a loaded word, that --- in the TheatreZone production of Mark Ravenhill's "Shopping and Fucking" comes (!) when a recovering junkie tenderly and lovingly agrees to satisfy a fourteen-year-old's request to have a screwdriver shoved up his own rectum as he stands facing the audience, his pants around his ankles. This is an act of love, but one for which the boy will pay money. Such acts are the means through which Ravenhill develops his thesis that sex, drugs, and money push people to extremes in a commerce-oriented society --- and so if anything about that first sentence is either offensive or incomprehensible you shouldn't be reading about this show, let alone paying to experience it. For Ravenhill, they are all "bottoms" in this play, except the man with all the money.
TheatreZone loves to take risks, and even its failures are fascinating. The company nails four scenes of this play dead-on: in one a shopping-channel producer (Thomas Benton) auditioning an on-line salesgirl (Michelle Martin) demands "You say you're an actress, okay show me some acting --- but take that blouse off first" and she launches into Irina's monologue from the end of "Three Sisters"; in a long, fevered recounting, a dealer (Eric Werner) explains why he broke Rule Number One ("Dealers never use") and passed out three hundred Quaaludes for free feeling like God and hadn't a single cent to show for the experience, at which point his frustrated girl throws hydrogen peroxide in his face; in a frantic search for the money the pills should have brought, the dealer and the girl try to keep three different phone-sex lines working, satisfying all sorts of customer fantasies as quickly as possible; and, in the finale, the producer/supplier insists the first few words in The Bible are "Get the money first!" but, having bought their souls, can afford to be magnanimous.
That long climactic scene, in which the dealer, the girl, and the junkie (John Herring) try to goad the boy (Nicholas Sieben) into revealing his ultimate fantasy, is the best realized of several close-to-the-knuckle explicit sexual scenes. However, on opening night the tension arose more from the actors' steeling themselves to perform necessary acts than from the significance of those acts themselves. Especially throughout act one, the actors were revealing themselves, rather than making the characters reveal themselves. In a sense, it was as if the cast had not yet done doing the difficult improv's before digging deeper into the motivations and inhibitions that make mere acts significant.
It is interesting for instance that John Herring plays a man bent on making sex an impersonal transaction in order to keep passion from sweeping him away. It is interesting that the word "love" is either a gaming-chip or a weapon here, never an attainable prize. The cast is often focused on what characters are doing, so that sudden subtle breaks in their postures and facades do not leap into focus as even more significant. And it is interesting that the best scenes here are not the most graphic and passionate, but the most ironic and funny.
The emphasis in the play is on the homosexual encounters of Herring and Sieben and the homosexual jealousy of ex-lover Werner, so Michelle Martin appears to have found no role for herself at all. Still, each one of these characters is eventually pushed to a point beyond which they will not go. Hers is hearing, after having watched a 7-Eleven murder which left her oddly uninvolved, that her sex-line client is masturbating while watching the surveillance-camera footage of that very murder. Money or no money, each one comes to an unacceptable edge, no matter how graphically far they have to go to reach it. The one real exception is Benton's character --- the money-Moloch who weeps easily over Disney's "The Lion King" without even noticing the elements pilfered from "Hamlet" he is describing.
Having displayed themselves opening night, the TheatreZone cast still must take all those graphic acts matter of factly, and hone the small character-changing lines between acts that throw those acts into dramatic perspective. Doubtless, that is exactly what Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques is working toward even now. This play may be at its best closing night.