Le Serpent Rouge
nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
May 16, 2009
Company XIV comes with an avalanche of nearly unanimously enthusiastic press, including what may be the single greatest pull quote ever: "Here is a company with something to say and the eloquence, brains, and goddamn balls with which to say it," courtesy of the British Theatre Guide. Their latest production, Le Serpent Rouge, is subtitled "a titillating tragedy," which doesn't even begin to describe it.
Choreographer/director Austin McCormick developed this material in collaboration with his cast, drawing inspiration from such varied literary sources as Jean Cocteau, John Erskine, Charles Bukowski, Thomas Mann, and the Bible to tell the story of Adam and Eve, narrated by a "Ring Mistress," and punctuated by a dancing, lip-synching drag queen—not exactly what one might remember from Sunday school, but in a good way. The corset-wearing, whip-cracking Ring Mistress, along with the drag queen pulling double duty as the serpent, show Adam and Eve what will happen if they bite the apple, with various episodes based around a different cardinal sin, each introduced with a title card.
Although the story of Adam and Eve is as old as mankind, McCormick's choreography is absolutely not. What it is: imaginative, visually striking, fresh, exciting, erotic, compelling, articulate, and brilliantly theatrical. Of course it helps to have good dancers, and in Laura Careless, John Beasant III, Yeva Glover, and Davon Rainey, McCormick has some very good ones. Beasant and Careless create true character arcs for Adam and Eve, respectively, entirely through movement. Glover is particularly good, first as a nearly-naked, Marilyn Monroe-channeling Lilith and then as various temptresses and tricksters, and Rainey is as good a drag performer as one can ever hope to see. While Gioia Marchese's Ring Mistress serves more as a narrator than dancer, she has tremendous physical presence, owning space.
Tired of superlatives yet? Too bad. Le Serpent Rouge looks stunning—courtesy of lighting designer Gina Scherr's lush reds, yellows, and oranges; the dancers are frequently back- or top-lit and become beautiful shadows. They perfectly compliment Zane Philstrom's impressive set (replete with chandelier) and Olivera Gajic's costumes, which do actually get worn a bit, the first few minutes notwithstanding. Most impressive, on the design team, is the sound, for which, curiously, no one takes credit in the program—the mixing was particularly difficult given the cavernous, echo-prone space.
The press release warns of mature adult content, and that no one under 17 will be admitted. Those under 17 would be well advised to spend their time until then reading up on their Cocteau, Erskine, Bukowski, and Mann so that they'll be ready for the well-deserved revival in a couple years. Those permitted to enter are advised to. Even if a fantastic, sexy, visually opulent night at the theater isn't your thing, there's free chocolate in the lobby. Seriously, the chocolate is really, really good.