It is not common to attend a theatrical performance that’s reputation is preceded by words such as ‘unbearable’ and ‘disgusting’, which is exactly why I was anxious to check out one of this year’s PuSh Festival pieces Jerk adapted by Giselle Vienne and performed by Jonathan Capdevielle.
Jerk is Vienne's theatrical adaptation of Dennis Cooper’s novella by the same name, which sees its lead character David Brooks, the real-life accomplice to the 1970’s serial killings known today as the Houston mass murders, reenacting his involvement in the grizzly events through the use of hand puppets. Invoking a small amount of meta-theatrics, audiences initially find themselves giggling at the idea of a grown man playing with puppets, but soon Capdevielle’s twisted and sad portrayal of a pathetic Brooks shifts into outright disturbia when he commences re-enacting the terribly abject and graphic tortures, complete with sound effects and the equally bone-chilling voices that drive this graphic enterprise.
Vienne however, doesn’t allow the audience to just sit back and, umm, enjoy the performance, but rather there is something to be said for the audience involvement. While admittedly the concept of us, the audience, taking on the role of a psychology class visiting the real-life Brooks in prison was lost on me, the fanzine distributed at the beginning of the performance was not.
It is a small brochure containing two textual accounts penned by Brooks himself, which act as an accompaniment to the performance, as ‘Brooks’ asks us to read each one before he begins the respective scene. It helps to outline the setting in which these actions took place, as Capdevielle sits mainly in front of a stark white background the whole time, but soon we are drawn so far into Brook’s nightmare world, we can actually feel the cold, blood-spattered basement walls around us. It was a nice interactive touch that also, through its terming of fanzine, implicates us both willing and eager participants in this gruesome endeavour.
To say the least, Jerk is a sexually perverted fantasy that flirts so dangerously with our own curiosity that Vienne easily draws us into the decrepit nightmare world of David Brooks’ mind. Vienne has not only created an experience that easily trumps any modern gore / horror film for its ability to scratch at the darkest corners of our psyche, but with the help of Capdevielle’s hauntingly brilliant performance, it will leave you questioning the thin line between one person’s reality and another’s nightmare.
See Jerk one last time on Friday, January 22, at 8.pm at the Vivo Media Arts Centre.