We Couldn't Call it What We Wanted to Call it, So We Called it Holy Crap!!
nytheatre.com review by Amy Lee Pearsall
April 29, 2011
You know you’re in for an unorthodox theatre experience when going to see a play called We Couldn't Call It What We Wanted to Call It, So We Called It Holy Crap!! at La MaMa E.T.C. With the assistance of co-translator and producer Ronald Rand, Spanish playwright Inigo Ramirez de Haro offers an English language translation of his controversial one-man tale of mental, physical, and spiritual constipation that inspired outrage and protest in Madrid in 2004.
Originally titled Me cago en Dios, a popular Spanish colloquialism with a somewhat inflammatory translation, the previous title better reflects the subject matter though both allude to the element of excreta. The audience enters the house to find performer Stephen Mo Hanan sitting on a toilet on stage, where he proceeds to engage the audience in delightful improvised banter as everyone finds their seats. An unnamed female swabs the stage with a mop and makes her way with her bucket up the main aisle; it is the last we see of her. When the play itself finally begins, Hanan’s character confides that he wants nothing more than to have a bowel movement as it has been some time since he’s been able to produce. After much hemming, hawing, and (yes) pushing, Hanan’s pants finally come back up with resignation and the layers of our protagonist’s story peel away as to how all this constipation began.
Scenic designer Stephen Dobay creates an understated world with elements of surrealism, outfitting the ramshackle bathroom with sheets of clear construction-grade plastic. Hanan’s character tears each layer of plastic down and, as he does so, steps up and back into the recesses of the playing space. The further he goes, the further we delve into his character’s mind and subconscious.
Hanan regresses to his character’s younger self, asking God for help with his math tests and promising not to step on any cracks. Hanan then flips around to portray an angry, vengeful God who is only interested in casting aspersions and watching humanity from the comfort of his recliner. The child becomes obsessed with ways he can win God’s love by proving his faith, but the church he turns to for salvation leads to his undoing.
Erica Gould directs the production with a deft hand. Hanan is quite enjoyable, though at times there did seem to be an excessive amount of whining when portraying his character’s younger self. Composer-sound designer Scott O’Brien creates a perfectly maddening bit of Euro-Musak for the top of the show. Driscoll Otto’s lights are generally effective, save for a 5-minute period of time that the two front fluorescents flickered. I could hardly look at the stage during that time and my seat mate dropped his head into his hands, mumbling something about a migraine.
With this piece, Ramirez de Haro takes us solidly into the realm of Theatre of Cruelty and any comparisons he might win to Artaud are well earned. Towards the end of the play, I found myself gripping my seat with eyes narrowed, and I could see how less restrained members of an audience—perhaps even those in Madrid several years ago—might become incensed by the proceedings. If you are prepared to deal with acerbic bathroom humor, elements of religious indoctrination, and pedophilia in the Catholic Church, see …Holy Crap!! Otherwise, your bathroom meditations might be better saved for home.