Big Plans bites off a solid mouthful but doesn't swallow
by Drew Rowsome - Photos by John Gundy
Big Plans' tagline is "Looking for a well-built man to be slaughtered and consumed" and the synopsis reads:
Inspired by real-life events surrounding the macabre and enigmatic Rotenburg Canniball. This show is a wickedly hilarious satirical exploration of our deepest desires. A dark and delicious treat.
The come-on, like the canniball's Craigslist ad, is a bit of a cocktease.
Prominently billing director Kat Sandler adds an extra layer of anticipation. Directing her own work - Cockfight, Liver - Sandler has shown a fearlessness with risky subject matter and a deft hand with dark comedy. Setting her loose on the tale of a gay cannibal and the man who answers a personal ad to join in dining on his severed penis before bleeding out, sounds like a laughter-rich recipe. And to begin with it is.
Playwright Jeremy Taylor takes the awkwardness of a internet hook-up and rachets the discomfort, and the comedy, to a terrifically tense pitch - after all, this encounter is to climax with a dismemberment. Then the action shifts and lurches, often clumsily, into the Big Plans' big themes. The audience, the "witnesses," are acknowledged and then indicted for their complicity. Considering we were all there expecting to watch some form of male on male canniball sex and bloodshed, we were all aware of possessing some degree of voyeuristic guilt that we had already made our peace with.
This pays off in occasional big laughs - when the to-be-dined-upon is ordered to undress as the witnesses have not yet been given a thrill, or the to-be-diner plays seductive with the witnesses' psyches - and emotionally when the roles begin to switch. Alas it doesn't pay off with the big reveal and the final fever-pitched moments fall flat.
Big Plans does work extraordinarily well through the efforts of Andy Trithardt (Rock, Delicacy, Sucker) and Daniel Pagett (Family Story). The pair are so achingly vulnerable and effortlessly comedic - much brauva work with gestures, timing and physicality - that the audience is continually off balance: are we to be horrified or amused by these two endearing deviants who we can't help rooting for? The attempt of these two nerd-sexy everymen with unusual appetites to connect, is charming and familiar, and horrifying for being so.
While Big Plans does provide laughs and an off-kilter, but telling, commentary on audience engagement with popular culture and collective guilt, it backs away from the Grand Guignol aspects, and is oddly squeamish about sexuality. By the time an extraneous Maria Ricossa introduces herself as the mother - who appears to be blamed for the closeted "homosexuality" and body-shaming that has resulted in a penchant for cannibalism - Big Plans has added a few ingredients too many.
The story of the Rotenberg Canniball is one that haunts because of it titillates, revolts, amuses and shocks all at once. Big Plans almost gets a similar reaction. When the severed penis is being cooked and the visceral aroma of garlic is permeating the theatre while Trithardt achieves ecstasty, Pagett's mobile face and destroyed body debate, and Ricossa swans, we get a taste of how searing Big Plans could be. Of how uneasy and terrifying our laughter should be. A little less teasing (that is said with full awareness that it is one of the themes), a trim of the pseudo-psychological fat and running time, and a bit more meat, and Big Plans would be a full course meal instead of a tantalizing appetizer.