Volume 20, Number 37 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 25 - September 1- 7, 2010
Written by Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Kip Fagan
Previews begin Sept. 7 for a Sept. 10 opening Closes Sept. 28
90 minutes, no intermission
At the 3LD Art & Technology Center
80 Greenwich St., at Rector St.
For tickets ($25 for adults, $18 for students), call 212-352-3101
Playwright asks: Is a rabbit just a bump in the road?
Ultra-intimate sexual act viewed as ticket to fame
BY JERRY TALLMER
Sheila Callaghan has a way with kids.
In “Lascivious Something” — staged here by the Women’s Project a few months ago — playwright Callaghan gave us a moody teenage character who dressed as a boy, behaved like a boy and was spoken to as “Boy” (though she was, in fact, a girl).
Now, in “Roadkill Confidential,” the same playwright gives us a brash, moody male teenager named Randy who shockingly commits an ultra-intimate sexual act upon his artist stepmother’s tularemia-infected rabbits.
Or says he has. To get his stepmom’s attention. And get himself on television, Stepmom, aka Trevor Pratt (actress Rebecca Henderson), is, you see, a conceptual artist, hidden away in the woods of New England or Upstate New York, with an interest in studying human cruelty in general and what’s called “bioterrorism” in particular.
To that end, she has stashed away in an abandoned barn the bodies of various furry creatures killed mid-road — Thump!… Thump!… Thump! — by speeding cars, not least her own car. One of Trevor’s projects before this was to collect and study — a la the pre-pop Andy Warhol — news photographs of the torsos and vehicles of people smashed in auto accidents.
“There’s such a thing as conceptual art,” says Sheila Callaghan, “and there’s such a thing as transformative art.” She clearly places her own genre in the latter category. What takes the curse off it, and, to my mind, all its horrors, is the wit and concision of her use of the English language in and out of the mouths of the people in her plays.
The particular form of bioterrorism that Trevor Pratt seeks to explore through her conceptual art is the above-mentioned tularemia, or rabbit fever — a devastating all-embracing killer purportedly first tried out by the Russians against the Germans at Stalingrad. It is this toxin that young Randy has, in a manner of speaking, scoffed at.
Here is the youthful CV of Randy, rabbit violator, in his own words. Well, Sheila Callaghan’s words:
Has a fork collection
Could eat Doritos every meal
Lost his virginity last year
Collects vampire comics
Mother died when he was six
Likes to be clean
Ate a live beetle on a dare
Wishes his life were digital
Can’t grow a mustache
Loves pizza bagels
Allergic to penicillin
Wishes he were famous
In fact, rabbits or no rabbits, Randy (Alex Anfanger) is just a typical American teenage boy. He might even turn out, someday, to be Sheila Callaghan’s own real-life son, Cal, or vice versa.
Cal is now 2. Cal’s father is composer Sophocles Papavasilopoulos. It was when Sheila and Sophocles took a vacation to visit his relatives in the old country, several years ago, that they became acquainted with a stubborn, heroic grape-growing winemaker on one of the Grecian isles who became the starting point of her “Lascivious Something.”
The starting point of “Roadkill Confidential” was when Ms. Callaghan stumbled across news stories about Steve Kurtz — a conceptual artist up in the Buffalo, New York, area who was using biological samples in his research. His wife, Hope, had died unexpectedly in May 2004. When those samples were discovered on the premises, Kurtz was placed under brief detention and investigation as a potential terrorist.
“In the end he was exonerated,” says Ms. Callaghan, “but I’m not telling that story at all.”
What she did do was invent a character simply called “FBI Man” — a stoic pro who is, for my money, considerably more interesting than reckless artist Trevor Pratt or defiant stepson Randy Whiting or Trevor’s goody-goody friend Melanie (Polly Lee) with her eternal sugar-free peach cobblers or Randy’s father, stuffy art historian William Whiting (Fred McFadden), or anybody else in “Roadkill Confidential.”
Here’s a patch between FBI Man and Randy:
RANDY: My step-mom has a thing about violence or whatever.
FBI MAN: She’s pretty whack?
RANDY: Um…Dunno…She’s got issues.
FBI MAN: Who doesn’t.
Or Trevor and FBI Man:
TREVOR: Do you ever want to punish others / For things you find horrible in yourself?
FBI MAN: Every day,
Why is the FBI Man (Danny Mastrogiorgio) so deeply engaged in digging out the truth about this perhaps hugely dangerous artist? Very simple. “I’m a patriot,” FBI Man says — and if there’s “collateral damage” along the way, so be it.
In Ms. Callaghan’s “Lascivious Something” there are two principal (adult) female characters. The playwright has told us that both these ladies come to some degree out of her inner self. “I think all writers do that,” she says again now. In which case, one of the Callaghans in “Roadkill Confidential” puts down the other with the one injurious four-letter word most despised by all the women on this planet.
“I don’t know if Trevor’s perspective is relevant to mine,” the playwright says. “I mean, I’m just the writer, so I’m never gonna hurt anybody.”
Ms. Callaghan, do you know any FBI men?
“No. I try to stay out of trouble.”
Do you drive a car?
“Yes.” At the moment she and her husband and son are living in Los Angeles, because of her film and TV work, so she has to.
Ever hit an animal with your car?
Ever read Howard Barker, the British poet-playwright who puts human cruelty and hatred under his own powerful microscope?
Trevor Pratt’s conceptual goal is, says Trevor Pratt’s creator, “not to hurt people; that’s a side effect.” Pause…pause…over the phone line from California. Then: “Of course she’s flawed. And that’s the joke of the play. She’s a villain, like any other noir female.”
Near the end of “Roadkill Confidential” its noir villain states her case:
I want to make the reality of my culture
conscious of itself
By confronting the transgressive nature
of modern spectatorship
In regards to human anguish.
“That’s a mouthful,” says FBI Man. It’s also Trevor Pratt’s raison d’etre and, beyond that, nervy young Sheila Callaghan’s raison d’etre.