Raw red circles line J Scott's left cheek. A pus-filled welt marks the center of each palm. They're from cigarettes, he explains, that were snuffed out on his skin two nights ago. "I have a taste for dominatrices," he says. "Most people would never burn you with cigarettes. They just lie about your dreams, or your goals, or you. Belittle and put you down whenever possible. But people in the S-M world get to hurt you, so they don't have to lie to you and fuck you emotionally. Their damage has already been done." The 25-year-old playwright and director sees damage all around him. "The whole world, at least to me, seems like it's all ending. I just want to know I tried and I fucked the bullshit up a little when it's done."
The burn marks are real enough, but its tough to tell with Scott where the genuine anguish ends and the nihilistic pose begins. He made his local theatrical debut in 2001 with Gelo to Oblivion, a squalid, calculatedly unpleasant fantasy about a household of bloodthirsty clowns and a leather-hooded slave who torment a boy mime thrown into their midst. Forgoing any semblance of narrative, he let his id run wild, staging 50 vivid, uncomfortable minutes of sodomy, torture, dismemberment, and humiliation with a raw lyricism reminiscent of Jarry and Artaud. Before the show began, a whiny clown named Sneer met paying customers at the door and forced them to sit across the room from whoever they'd come with.
Scott says he got his start writing fake suicide notes and his own obituary as a child. "I used to cry at the drop of a hat," he says. "My soda could be warm, I could be late getting home, I could fumble with my keys in the doorway. Literally anything, and I'd be miserable. Didn't like being talked to. Didn't like being touched. Didn't like anyone around me. Still don't, really."
His family moved often, but eventually they settled in Lombard, and Scott studied theater at Roosevelt for a while. "I hated the actors, I hated all my teachers. First day of class [one] wanted us to touch a piece of wood. 'What does this wood tell you?' 'It tells me I'm paying too much fucking money for this class.'"
Eventually he dropped out and headed to London, where he took some classes in Shakespeare. Then he charged off to Columbus, Ohio, to hook up with a comedy troupe called Shadowbox Cabaret. After one show, however, he gave up on them--because "they ended up being a bunch of dicks"--and started his own company, performing in the warehouse of a comic book store. In 1998 he mounted his first version of Gelo to Oblivion, deciding not to use any "real actors" because, of course, he hated actors. Instead he posted flyers around town announcing auditions and ended up with a secretary, a stripper, two bouncers, "someone who called himself the Reverend something-or-other," and a homeless midget. "I found him on the street begging for change," says Scott. "I said, 'How would you like to be in a show for me?' He started yelling at me, and I'm like, 'I'll give you a 12-pack of beer and a couple hamburgers a week.' And I got him."
He says the show was the best theater experience he'd ever had. Nonetheless, he didn't stage any other productions in Columbus, instead spending his time going to raves and doing drugs. His mother convinced him to come back to Chicago in 1999.
He mounted Gelo and an equally brutal piece called Fishtank with Half Cocked Productions, but after a falling-out with that crew, he's struck out on his own again. His new company, NihilistGELO, opens with his latest creation, Skuscocfah!!!, this weekend. The show bears a superficial resemblance to Gelo to Oblivion: a demented family, perhaps all murderers, torment a naked, wounded man thrown into their dilapidated shack. But Scott's scaled back the viciousness and allowed moments of real pathos to shine through. "It's a Halloween show," he says, "so it's more audience friendly, I guess."
Skuscocfah!!! opens Friday, October 10, at 9 PM at the Safety Pin, 1772 W. Greenleaf, and runs Fridays and Saturdays through November 1. Admission is $15, but if you bring beer for the cast, Scott says, it's half price; call 312-835-0245.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Saverio Truglia.