The Broken Compass at the Peter Jones Gallery (see Fringe & storefront). By Philip Ridley. Dir. Greg Beam. With James Ericco, Brian Kilborn.
The news isn’t good. Apparently each of us is merely the star of an elaborate snuff film, and the people around us are just waiting to get off on our eminent demise. We wish there were something sunnier to report, but alas, the playwright is barbarous Brit Philip Ridley (The Fastest Clock in the Universe), and his gleefully black 2005 play takes place in an apocalyptic London populated by indigent punks who survive by orchestrating sex-and-death orgies for the wealthy and carnivorous. On the night of the strong-armed, limp-wristed Mercury, a ten-year-old is on the menu.
Conversationally, Ridley often gets lumped in with English brutalists Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill. But his pickled sense of humor is what sets him apart and gets him in the most (welcome) trouble. The wickedly acrid poetry with which his characters address each other—“I’ve seen gang-raped toddlers act with more alacrity”—is just as startling as anything that happens onstage. And for that matter, Ridley’s keenest trick in this horrifying yet engaging look at rat-race kinkiness is that most of the real violence takes place just offstage. Ridley trusts our imagination is just as good as his, a sizable compliment.
Director Beam’s utterly raw staging is about 70 percent deliberate, with finely instinctive fringe actor–thugs blowing a hole in the wall of the Peter Jones Gallery (which finally hosts a production designed to utilize effectively its interior funkiness). The 30 percent that’s sloppy masquerading as edgy is unfortunate, only considering what Broken Compass asks us to endure.—Christopher Piatt