Garage Rep Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Steppenwolf has been showcasing young local theater troupes in some version of its Visiting Companies Initiative since 1995. This year, three ensembles—Pavement Group, Dog & Pony, and XIII Pocket—have been selected to run pieces in repertory at Steppenwolf's Merle Reskin Garage Theatre. They're a well-chosen bunch. Even the most problematic work here (XIII Pocket's Adore) is thought-provoking enough to be worth a look. Another piece (Dog & Pony's The Twins Would Like to Say) is ungainly at times, but delightful in its inventiveness. And the third (Pavement Group's Punkplay) is just right.
Adore Bernd Jurgen Brandes was a masochistic gay Berliner with an intense desire was to be castrated, executed, butchered like a pig in a slaughterhouse, and then eaten by his lover. Armin Meiwes was a would-be cannibal from Rotenburg, about 230 miles southeast of the capital. They met online in 2001, after Meiwes advertised for a "well-built man, 18–30, who would like to be eaten by me," and helped each other realize their dovetailing fantasies (for which Meiwes, who has reportedly turned vegetarian, is now serving a life sentence). In this XIII Pocket production, writer-director Stephen Louis Grush explores the gruesome kismet of their relationship.
He does so without snickers or condemnation, framing Brandes and Meiwes as a couple of hopeless—if psychically damaged—romantics who've simply taken metaphors about love at face value. Theirs is a literally consuming passion; they want to become one, to possess and be possessed by each other in the most elemental sense. Brandes insists that there must be nothing left of him when Meiwes is done—he wants Meiwes to smash him to powder and breathe him in. And Meiwes, lovingly, pledges to "destroy" him.
Is that absurd or profound? Certainly, there are moments that point out the strangeness of the affair, as when Brandes and Meiwes meet for the first time after conducting breathlessly intimate negotiations online, and spend the ride to Meiwes's abattoir-equipped house getting to know each other. There's also some speculation from Meiwes on whether his pact with Brandes is a matter of fate or just a kink amplified into obsession by the astonishing opportunities for indulgence provided by the Internet. But overall, Grush allows his characters a deep seriousness. This is a story of outlaw love completed by death, just like Romeo and Juliet.
What it's not is a story with lots of drama. We know the ending at the start, so there's little narrative momentum. And Meiwes and Brandes are in complete sync as soon as they hook up, so there's no tension to exploit. They don't even face any external obstacles. They basically just make a deal and fulfill it. Grush gets interesting performances from Paige Smith as Brandes and Eric Leonard as Meiwes—both of whom project a startling normality—and he tries to pump up the spectacle with film images. But for all its appalling aspects, Adore gets dull fast.
The Twins Would Like to Say Like Adore, this beautiful, flawed Dog & Pony Theatre show is based on true and sensational events. Like Adore also, it concerns two people who become united by making a gift of their individuality to each other.
The people are June and Jennifer Gibbons, Barbados-born twins who grew up in Wales and, while still small, vowed to speak only to each other. By the time they were 14, in 1977, they were not only keeping that vow but creeping out classmates and adults alike by moving in slow, robotic unison.