Holes Before Bedtime
Dan Basila's 'Holes Before Bedtime' is an unsettling work of art; but it is a work of art, as opposed to a mere vulgar spectacle, and that's the really weird thing about it
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., June 17, 2005
Holes Before Bedtime
The Vortex, through June 18
Running Time: 1 hr, 30 min
They say you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Never mind that this assertion has been, through arcane and contrarian taxidermy, repeatedly proved false; ponder, instead, the possibility of constructing a silk purse from the diseased and painfully distended genitalia of a sow. Then, after the pleasure of such pondering has sufficiently abated, imagine that the construction is not only of a silk purse but of an entire fall line of silk purses, shoulder bags, backpacks, and other such accessories that would be most effectively marketed to the inhabitants of some Hieronymus Bosch nightmare.
Dan Basila's Holes Before Bedtime ("a matricidal sodomic cancer riddle"), as presented by Rubber Repertory, is an unsettling work of art; but it is a work of art, as opposed to a mere vulgar spectacle, and that's the really weird thing about it. How can a play be a worthwhile, even pleasurable experience if it's trafficking mainly in 1) vigorously choreographed incest, 2) other, slightly less invasive forms of child abuse, and 3) violent murder and disfigurement?Ê
First, because of the staging and "vigorously choreographed" is a big clue. The direction provided by Matt Hislope and Josh Meyer is nothing short of impressive. With a minimal set, few props, and costumes consisting of exaggerated and compromised versions of what might be the players' own underwear, Hislope and Meyer's five actors provide dance numbers and song-and-dance numbers that trip the spectrum from sub-Ed Wood to just-sub-Busby Berkeley all over the Vortex's modest stage. These interstitial and intranarrative events are accompanied by live music (composed by Henna Chou and Josh Meyer), expertly rendered (on cello, banjo, toy xylophone, etc.) by Chou herself.
Second, because of the actors. This dark sort of farce works best when the characters are grotesques, as they're classically known, in appearance as well as in spirit. So it serves the twisted story's purpose that not only are Anthony Megie, Cole Wimpee, Susie Williams, Kristine Olson, and Frank Benge more than adequate at portraying such outlandish personalities, but that the latter two have a flopping abundance of adipose tissue with which to threaten an audience's aesthetics. (Especially, yes, as everyone's quite topless by story's end.) Also, the entire cast can at least get by while singing, and Olson of professional opera background does things with her voice that can, as necessary, set you near heaven's own jukebox or send you cowering under the inferno's least inhospitable rock.
But third and foremost, it's the script. Holes Before Bedtime is no mere cartoon-colored cacophony of pedophilia and scatology with a slight social-critique veneer à la South Park. Dan Basila's writing due to its verbal ingenuity and its infusions of pathos, and the ways in which the depicted sexual aberrations and horrifying connections mirror the emotional equivalents in families much less dysfunctional evokes a strange feeling of sympathy, of uneasy familiarity, even while your intellect marvels at his wordplay and the fiendish symmetry of his construction.
All the above is meant to suggest that you'll be witnessing a darkly comic work of complexity, perversion, and give-the-audience-a-show intent. As if someone were offering you a silk purse and you knew but didn't mind that it had been cobbled from the ear (or worse) of a sow, take the suggestion and, even with reservations, make your reservation.