Kirk Wood Bromley's new theatre piece, which has no title, and which is the first for which he has served as both director and playwright, is intensely unsettling. There's a line in it about something getting stuck in your teeth—not in between your teeth, but in them—and that's kind of how this show feels twelve hours after experiencing it, though it's the gut that it seems to be lodged within. It's a work that defies categorization, and I left it feeling numb.
The first, much longer part (nearly 90 minutes) is a mostly playful entertainment/ritual in which the actors and the onstage band (led by composer John Gideon) perform songs, sketches, scenes, games, and random poetry. It's entirely nonlinear, though some "characters" emerge from the amorphousness. It's the kind of salmagundi that you expect from Bromley: brilliant, terse ideas cross-cutting with astonishing frequency; wordplay; ingenious puns and inventions. There's a round of charades where one actor tries to communicate a simple three-word phrase while around her the others shout out a bewildering array of would-be book and film titles. There's a tirade from a man in a wheelchair (delivered by Darius Stone, who deserves a special shout-out for joining the company on short notice and turning in a splendid performance), a weird conversation about "retards," and a segment where a group of children's toys are given a public hanging; interspersed throughout are hundreds of non-sequitors, some blazingly on point, others willfully obscure, and many adding a note of political satire by skewering some of the received wisdom that underlies our present polity.
There are themes that give this first "act" a spine, if not a throughline: the end of childhood/the loss of innocence, the dichotomy of sex and love, the boundaries of parental love and the crossing-over of that boundary into abuse. But the form of the piece was more suggestive to me of a church service than a traditional theatre experience, and coming after Bromley's Me this "play" seemed to be building into a secular but nevertheless spiritual happening, inviting the audience to contemplate fundamental issues along with some contemporary ones while engaging in something trustful and ultimately comforting with a welcoming company of actors and musicians.
A brief interlude suggests a change in mood is afoot: actors offer "blood samples" (wine) and "shit" (two-bite brownies) to audience members, and I was put in mind of Pasolini's Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (his film of a DeSade work). I had no idea how right that impulse would prove to be. The second section of this play without a title—only about a half-hour long, but it feels excruciatingly longer—is a journey through a hell of sexual abuse and pedophilia. The format is of a series of auditions, and the early ones ease (lure?) us in by seeming to parody the director-as-tyrant/actor-as-willing-slave cliche with the stakes low and the tone gently comical. But it soon becomes clear that these "auditions" require sexual acts of an increasingly perverse nature, and that the "players" are children. Bromley's trademark poetic pyrotechnics are here applied to acts that most would instantly label obscene.
Presentationally, this part of the show is neither funny nor sexy nor even "dirty." Puppets (designed by the remarkable artist Jane Stein) substitute for human beings during much of this section, which proves pretty disturbing, actually. (This is not Avenue Q.)
Bromley's collaborators tackle the dark vision he has laid out for us with their customary passion and professionalism—kudos to all of them for taking on a project that, one imagines, is uncomfortable to execute.
I left the theatre untethered from witnessing this brilliant poet's brain take demented flights of fancy into the darkest places it has been/can imagine. I understand now that the dislocation I felt is the point. What might it be like to have someone you love, trust, admire, respect suddenly ravage you in the vilest way imaginable? That's what happens in this play that has no name. It takes a while to recognize it, let alone recover from it.