WORLD PREMIERE! Ripped from the headlines and based on a real event, Taste tells the story of two men who meet online and make a unique arrangement: One man will kill, cook, and eat the other. Over the course of the evening, secrets are revealed, boundaries are tested, and a strange but beautiful relationship unfolds. Deliciously voyeuristic, sinfully elegant, and surprisingly touching, this is Taste.
Warning: Due to strong sexual content and imagery, no one under the age of 18 will be admitted.
Thursday, April 17: DONATE WHAT YOU CAN. It's "Pay What You Can" with a twist! Half of all proceeds for this performance will be donated to the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, a broad-based grass-roots organization which for the past 25 years has served a hot, fresh, and nutritious meal every night to the homeless and hungry. Tickets that night may only be purchased at the door. Call (310) 281-8337 to make a reservation.
"With 'Taste,' [Stuart Gordon] once again enters the horror genre and stretches the definition." -KPBS
"This remarkable provocation pulls off the tricky balance of trafficking in excess without becoming indulgently complicit in it." -The Hollywood Reporter
"RECOMMENDED. It’s chilling stuff, yet it’s also inexplicably hilarious... together the performances intersect and ebb and flow like a beautifully orchestrated duet. It’s masterful writing... searingly visceral..." -Stage Raw
"GO! ...a discerning (if stomach-churning) drama, featuring two of the best performances I've seen in a while... exceptional theatrical experience... superbly understated direction... incisive dialogue..." -L.A. Weekly
"...an essentially serious and weirdly touching character study... brilliant performances... something about this tragic relationship pierces the heart." -Talkin' Broadway
"...remarkably nuanced... sends a continuous series of chills up the spine... a maturely observed meditation on contemporary urban life... there’s food for thought here. Yeah, that’s it. From soup to nuts. Literally." -Arts In L.A.
"...Stomach Churning and Touching... remarkably polished... remarkably poignant." -Bloody Disgusting
"...a confident, strong character piece that rippled with nervous, awkward energy... a unique and cool alternative to anything else you might have planned... Definitely recommended!" -Shock Till You Drop
"...not to be missed. A thoughtful and stunning character piece on loneliness and the cannibalization of the human condition, Gordon is in top-form here with an experience that’s as horrific and disturbing as it is tragic and poignant." -Daily Dead
"...you are in for a err... delicious treat! ...It’s as intimate as you can get with these two people and it’s electrifying watching it all unfold." -Icons of Fright
"...a thoughtful, stunning play... What should be impossible — an unbelievably horrific, disturbing, love story boils down to a gorgeous human experience." -Gia on the Move
"If you value deeply disturbing and deeply moving theatre, hurry to Heliotrope Drive in Hollywood — you have only three more chances to see the birth of a phenomenon." -Theatre Ghost
"...one of the most uncomfortable yet thought-provoking theatrical experiences since EQUUS." -The Movie Guys
Photos by Jessica Sherman Photography
Donal Thoms-Cappello as Terry
Chris L. McKenna as Vic
Pete Caslavka as Terry
Yuri Lowenthal as Vic
Producers - Ben Rock, Jenelle Riley, Dean Schramm, Adam Goldworm & Stuart Gordon
Stage Managers - Megan Crockett (through May 16) & Rebecca Schoenberg (May 17-31)
Assistant Director - Ben Rock
Set Designer - DeAnne Millais
Lighting Designer - Matt Richter
Costume Designer - Jennifer Christina Smith
Sound & Video Designer - Ben Rock
Prop Designer - Emily Donn
Marketing Associate - Bob DeRosa
Special Effects - Tony Doublin
Special Makeup Effects - Gabe Bartalos
Lead Scenic Painter - Maria Bjorkdahl
Fight Coordinator - Mike Mahaffey
Graphic Design - Johnny Mejia
Digital print backdrop for Taste
generously provided by
West Coast Backings
The Bottom Line: Cooking show-era cannibalism between consenting adults, a nose-to-tail Liebestod. Oh, and based on a true story...
A cannibalism tale, based on a real story, is staged for the era of nose-to-tail dining.
In the 90 years since the storied thrill-kill pact between Leopold and Loeb, murder conspiracies have often been artistically appropriated as coded expression of sexual desires otherwise deemed forbidden. Although closely inspired by the notorious 2001 case of the Rotenburg Cannibal, Armin Miewes -- a subject since of several films, as well as the title tune of the Mein Teil album by the industrial metal band Rammstein -- this first play by television writer Benjamin Brand (IFC’s Bollywood Hero), Taste, stands squarely in the single-set and classical unities tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of Rope.
The fastidious Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello), well-schooled from television chefs such as Jacques Pepin, caramelizes some onions in his carefully arranged apartment, the set of which consists primarily of a kitchen. Director Stuart Gordon, a gorefest connoisseur, invokes sensory recollections of cinematic Smell-O-Vision with the cepaceous aroma, when the awaited visitor comes to the door.
The effacing Vic (Chris L. McKenna) has connected online with Terry, and this first meeting, however tentative, is also intended to be their last, as Vic has consented to having his penis removed and jointly eaten before being butchered, motivated both by his desire for the sexual pleasure of the pain and the obsession to leave nothing of himself to remain as waste, a complete abnegation of body and being. For his part, Terry is keen to record the entire process with his camera to add to his extensive collection of porn. Of course, foreplay being all, they must first find a way to connect, in friendship, in trust, and in a kind of love.
Obviously, the squeamish and impressionable are to be strenuously warned, and Brand will doubtless never see an American airwave adaptation, even on cable. Director Gordon's great coup is that the creepiest aspect of the action is the Internet blind date itself, as he guides his intrepid actors through such courageous paces that their perverted dance of death seduces with its an aberrant illogic.
Everyone is on treacherous ground here, not merely for the matter-of-fact exploitation of taboos, but also by uncomfortably brushing against the now-hackneyed theatrical tradition, once reinforced by misguided psychiatry, of deranged, murderous homosexuals. Everyone involved is obviously sensitive to the risk, knowingly flirting with the stereotypes while at pains to avoid them, itself a dangerous game.
While Gordon doesn’t stint on the sanguinary effects nor on the giggly gross-outs, it is his precise restraint and respect for the play’s inexorable build that transcends the titters and tempers the sensational. From his early work at Chicago’s Organic Theater, such as Warp!, and first bringing attention to David Mamet with the world premiere of Sexual Perversity in Chicago in the early 1970s, through his disreputable yet distinguished movie career (the Lovecraft and Poe adaptations, plus films like Dolls, Fortress, Edmond and Stuck), to his recent local stage work including the musical version of his film debut Re-Animator or Kaballah: Scary Jewish Stories, Gordon consistently masters fears through their contrivance. This remarkable provocation pulls off the tricky balance of trafficking in excess without becoming indulgently complicit in it.
© 2014 The Hollywood Reporter
A Play About a Guy Who Agrees to Be Eaten by Another Guy
It's hard to conceive of a more bizarre and revolting tale than the one re-imagined in Taste, Benjamin Brand's reality-based play about a pact between a man with cannibalistic desires and the willing victim he solicits on the internet.
The actual event - preserved by the perpetrator on videotape - took place in Germany in 2001, and included a mutual agreement to begin their enterprise by severing and then jointly dining on the victim's penis.
Brand spotlights the incident in the play, which emerges not as the egregious gore-fest I had anticipated with some dread but as a discerning (if stomach-churning) drama, featuring two of the best performances I've seen in a while.
At the core of the show's black humor is the odd-couple polarity between Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello), a brisk Felix Unger type who listens to opera and loves gourmet cooking, and his guest, schlubby Vic (Chris L. McKenna), a miserably unhappy man who's arrived that evening determined to end it all, as painfully and graphically as he can.
Besides self-annihilation, Vic is also searching for something else he's never experienced - a friend. It turns out that beneath his take-charge exterior, Terry is also acutely wanting in that department. The juxtaposition of little-boy loneliness, prim narcissism and bloodthirsty obsession is absolutely fascinating. While you may be horrified, you yield as Brand's script transports you into dark and ghastly grottos of the human psyche, transforming the hitherto inconceivable into the distinctly possible.
Whom does one credit for this exceptional theatrical experience? The answer is everyone. Under Stuart Gordon's superbly understated direction, Brand's incisive dialogue flows as naturally as if his subjects really were just two anxious guys simply looking to bridge their strangeness. (" I'm a bit chewy," says Vic, as they share a laugh over his sautéed member.)
Things grow weirder and weirder, but the performers never misstep by overplaying, nor do they ever shed the humanity that draws us into their story.
© 2014 L.A. Weekly
Two men meet on the Internet and forge an unholy pact.
Screen and television writer Benjamin Brand’s first play, Taste, is based on a bizarre, true-crime episode from 2001, for which a German man named Armin Meiwes was convicted and eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.
Every grisly detail of the actual event was videotaped, so Taste is a factual play that reenacts the meeting between the two men and powerfully unfolds in real time.
It’s chilling stuff, yet it’s also inexplicably hilarious.
Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator: The Musical, based on his cult horror film) directs this unusual play brilliantly, finding laughs within the disturbing storyline. Right from the start Brand establishes numerous details about his characters and Gordon includes several sight gags, yet it’s a credit to Gordon and his fine actors that the performances never tip over into camp territory.
We first meet Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello), a slightly fey fellow and enthusiastic cook, who lives in a spacious and stylishly decorated urban bachelor pad. He’s so fastidious he even has a coaster on his granite counter for his vodka bottle. In fact, DeAnne Millais’ stunningly-detailed and expensive-looking scenic design — complete with a well-equipped, working kitchen — helps us form a strong impression of the character who inhabits this luxe dwelling, even before the play commences. Then, in the play’s opening scene, our first impression is confirmed as Terry listens to an LP recording of an exquisite aria while expertly dicing and frying an onion. Plus, we gain the olfactory (and auditory) pleasure of the frying onion, unaware of its foreshadowing.
Next we meet the other character in this one-act two-hander, the portentously named Vic, played by Chris L. McKenna. Vic is awkward, nervous, and somewhat schlubby and goofy: he seems far less refined than Terry. Lines such as “You don’t quite look like your photo…” suggest that this is a first date for a pair who’ve met on the Internet. The men dine and toast “To seeing things through,” and another ominous note is sounded.
As Vic, McKenna does a marvelous job of conveying all the emotional complexities and nuances of the encounter he willingly undertakes. Thoms-Cappello’s emotional journey also undulates, but on a slightly different trajectory; together the performances intersect and ebb and flow like a beautifully orchestrated duet. It’s masterful writing.
This macabre comedy is also searingly visceral, complete with sexually explicit scenes and jets of gore. Taste is gross, yet riotous, and definitely not for the squeamish.
© 2014 Stage Raw
When one reads about a new play concerning cannibalism, directed by Stuart Gordon, the man who brought the world Re-Animator, one has certain preconceptions. Or at least I did. I presumed it would be gory and darkly humorous, and I was correct in those assumptions. What I didn't expect was that it would be an essentially serious and weirdly touching character study, and I was pleasantly surprised by the brilliant performances. Benjamin Brand's Taste isn't exactly a love story—it's a need story—but something about this tragic relationship pierces the heart.
Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello) is preparing a meal in his neat, fashionable apartment when his guest arrives. It's Vic (Chris L. McKenna), who has responded to a peculiar ad Terry had placed on the Internet. Terry, all smiles and charm, tries to put the nervous Vic at his ease, offering him food, but Vic is allergic to just about everything Terry offers. After a while, they get down to the matter at hand: Vic has offered to let Terry kill and eat him. After a few false starts, things begin to progress. Following an unexpected revelation, however, Vic changes his mind, but Terry resists change. Violently.
McKenna is a marvel of blinking, twitching energy as Vic, forever uncertain and ill at ease, but he also imbues the performance with a certain courage and grace. For reasons never explored in the play, Vic has made his peace with his decision—he isn't just going through with Terry's request, he wants to. Thoms-Cappello is masterful as Terry, the perfect host whose homicidal anger only breaks through occasionally. His demeanor changes as the plan proceeds, though, when he reacts to the reality of Vic's sacrifice with a sort of awed tenderness.
Director Gordon manages an impressive balancing act, delivering a bloody comedy and serious drama together in one seamless package. He gets superb, nuanced performances from his actors in a difficult project that could easily have gone astray. His staging makes the most of the theatrical space, helped immensely by DeAnne Millais' detailed apartment set featuring a working stove and sink and large painted backdrop windows. Brand's play effectively charts a course between being too horror campy or too clinically realistic, sure-footedly reaching the conclusion that this story isn't really about murder/suicide but about two men who needed and finally found each other.
© 2014 Talkin' Broadway
The premise of Benjamin Brand’s Taste, as the management of Sacred Fools Theater Company has been unabashedly eager to trumpet in preopening publicity, is a compact made between two men to meet for dinner, at which the guest is to be killed, butchered, cooked, and eaten by the host in what must qualify as the most unusual, and surely the most potentially savory, assisted suicide of all time. The Fools’s frankness is prudent and smart: prudent in that no one can say she wasn’t warned, and smart because knowing what is going to happen allows the audience to concentrate with rapt attention on just how it’s going to happen.
As to the latter question, I wouldn’t dream of giving away too much, except to say that there’s hardcore video imagery on display and effectively executed gore effects, none of which is recommended for the squeamish. One only need note that Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon, king of the red-dye mixed with corn-syrup effects, is at the helm, to pick up on the caveat emptor. However, even more interesting than the what and how is the why of the play, TV writer Brand’s first and a remarkably nuanced piece of work.
Ingrained connections between sex and food, and between sex and death, are legion in literature dating back centuries: There’s that forbidden fruit in Eden, of course, and who can say when the orgasm began to be known as le petit mort? Equally pervasive is the belief that ingesting a creature means incorporating part of its soul into oneself, a tenet held by pagans and Christians alike. Is it accident, or producer perversity, that the opening of Taste happens to coincide with Holy Week?
All of these themes are explicitly incorporated into Brand’s carefully modulated, even suave, plotting, in which it’s easy to believe that the Internet chatting between awkward, self-conscious Vic (Chris L. McKenna) and wealthy, self-possessed Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello) has all been a prelude to a nuit d’amour. It’s a source of continual amusement that the highly charged dynamic between the two men would proceed pretty much the same whether Vic came here for dinner or as dinner.
Then, as the preparations mount, we realize that this odd couple is clearly attempting to carry out a solemn ritual whose specifics they’ve painstakingly worked out in advance online. Of course, real life’s messy accidents keep intruding, which results in even more mirth. Yet Taste sends a continuous series of chills up the spine as Vic and Terry, separately and together, take steps we instantly recognize to be preplanned milestones along the way, from appetizer to entrée, carried out with near-religious rigor and even exaltation. A rite is a rite, Brand seems to be saying—whether enacted in a cathedral apse or a comfortable Chicago apartment, and however mundane or macabre it may appear to the observer.
Yet, beyond all of these dimensions, Taste strikes me as a maturely observed meditation on contemporary urban life, a notion that begins with the panorama of high-rise apartments across the street, eerily peeking through designer DeAnne Millais’s breathtaking picture windows. There are millions of stories in the naked city, the set tells us, and this is one of them—a really weird one of them.
It’s commonplace to decry Internet obsession as a crippling phenomenon that tends to alienate far too many from lives lived in person. Not so in Taste, where Vic and Terry have specifically made the leap from chatroom to living room to follow E.M. Forster’s injunction to “only connect.” Each man’s reasons for keeping this appointment, only gradually revealed in the course of the play’s riveting 90 minutes, prove to be fraught with resonance in terms of the loneliness of modern existence. What these poor souls are looking for remains painfully familiar, no matter how Grand Guignol the trappings become.
Gordon does an excellent job of seamlessly weaving Brand’s serious concerns into all the Guignol excess. I wish he had pushed Thoms-Cappello to even more pronounced vulnerability in the play’s final third, but the actor nicely balances the urbane and the unhinged throughout. And McKenna is simply a revelation, bumbling and then staggering his way through what he hopes will be both his first, and last, meaningful encounter with another human being. The play requires him to carry the lion’s share of humor and poignancy, and he does so with memorable distinction.
Taste, I fear, is destined to be disrespected and even dismissed because of the wacky chances it takes, and that would be a shame. The play’s central metaphor may be extreme, but it provides much to chew on. Um, hang on, what I mean to say is, there’s food for thought here. Yeah, that’s it. From soup to nuts. Literally.
© 2014 Arts In L.A.
Stuart Gordon's New Play "Taste" Is Stomach Churning and Touching and Playing In Los Angeles!
Last Friday some friends and I headed out to the Sacred Fools theater a few blocks east of Hollywood to check out Stuart Gordon‘s new play Taste. If you’re a fan of his work in films like Re-Animator or From Beyond, you’ll find that the same sense of subversion and uncensored While the show was still in previews (this was actually the first preview performance), it felt remarkably polished. While the version you see might be tweaked here and there from the performance I took in, I have no pause whatsoever in recommending it to horror fans (or theater fans in general).
The script by Benjamin Brand takes the real life tale of two men who arrange to meet under the condition that one will eat the other and spins it into something that, at times, is remarkably poignant. The times when it’s not so poignant are tense, bloody and fairly wrenching — all highly recommended sensations. The two leads, Donal Thoms-Cappello and Chris L. McKenna, didn’t miss a beat during the previews so I imagine they’ll only be more impressive during the official run of the piece.
So if you’re looking for a little culture, you could do a lot worse than checking out this gory good time. It runs until May 17th and tickets are available here. Just eat before you go.
© 2014 Bloody Disgusting
Los Angeles: Stuart Gordon’s Taste Officially Opens & You Should Be Seeing It
An evening encounter between two strangers in a posh city apartment becomes the backdrop of a two-man play that touches on the nature of loneliness, friendship, anonymity and cannibalism in the unsettling, slow burn that is Taste.
Shock was invited to check out a preview of the show – the latest effort from film director Stuart Gordon (who brought us previous stage productions Nevermore, Re-Animator: The Musical) and writer Benjamin Brand - here in Los Angeles last week. It begins its official run at the Sacred Fools Theater Company April 11th and closes on May 17th.
If you're at all curious about seeing this, and you live in Los Angeles, I say, "check it out." The setting is surprisingly intimate in this venue, so you feel you're literally a spectator sitting on a couch within the apartment of Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello), a man who strikes up an online relationship with Vic (Chris McKenna). You're a voyeur spying on their first encounter and the macabre pact they make.
Naturally, because I saw a preview, there was some fine-tuning to be had (I was told a good chunk of material had been snipped to quicken the pace), still, what I saw was a confident, strong character piece that rippled with nervous, awkward energy. McKenna turns in a terrific performance as the "nothing left to lose but my flesh" Vic, a shy, timid man who just wants to be part of something. He juggles caution, satisfaction and suffering with ease. And Thoms-Cappello channels his inner-Patrick Bateman quite well. His turn as Terry is a bit more all over the map, but I'm sure he's found his voice by this point.
Gordon, naturally, works in some wry humor (Terry's DVD collection has films like There Will Be Blood, Cannibal: The Musical and even Gordon's King of the Ants facing out on the shelf) and some unflinching violence and bloodshed.
Taste is a unique and cool alternative to anything else you might have planned on an evening in Los Angeles. Also, it plays on many senses (you can actually smell the cooking being done on stage). Definitely recommended!
© 2014 Shock Till You Drop
Based on my experiences at his previous theater offerings here in Los Angeles over the last few years, I knew I was going to be in for a delectable time with Stuart Gordon’s latest play, Taste, which opens this weekend at the Sacred Fools Theatre Company (660 N. Heliotrope, Hollywood) and runs through May 17, 2014. A gut-wrenching and often times horrifying exploration of isolation and what it means to truly connect with others, Taste is a truly haunting experience.
Loosely based on the real-life incident where two men found each other on Craigslist so that one could be cannibalized by the other, Taste follows two men named Vic (Chris L. McKenna) and Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello). After befriending each other online, they meet for a gruesomely unique dinner party with Vic wanting to be cooked and consumed by his new pal and Terry, an aspiring chef, happily agreeing to go along with the plan. And while the concept itself sounds pretty cut and dry, Taste is actually a rather complex and engaging study of human connection in this digital age that seems to be getting more and more impersonal with every day that passes.
It’s hard to imagine what would ever drive someone to the point where they would want to be consumed by another human being, but Taste treats this bizarre scenario with an unflinching honesty and respect that you can’t help but admire. It would have been easy to either play up more of the horror or comedy elements of the story, but writer Benjamin Brand and director Gordon tackle the tale straight-on, letting the humor and the dramatic conflicts build organically as our characters struggle with their dinner plan decision in almost real-time. Gordon also smartly bypasses using an intermission with Taste which I think only enhanced the experience and kept from breaking the incredible sense of tension he and his actors create throughout.
Taste also uses a real, working kitchen onstage which adds a nice touch to the authenticity of the piece that’s also a bit off-putting at times, especially when your smelling all kinds of delicious aromas and the characters are onstage are discussing which body part they want to sauté next. A subtle and wonderfully twisted touch that really puts you right there in the moment.
And while Gordon’s directorial approach and Brand’s script are both equally masterful, the success of Taste is riding all on actors McKenna and Thoms-Cappello to keep audiences engaged from start to finish. The duo both deliver blisteringly raw and heartfelt performances that keeps this oddball tale from ever veering off-course. McKenna’s portrayal of Vic, a man who has never experienced real human connection before, is nothing short of astonishing and heartbreaking. Thoms-Cappello is also fantastic as Terry, a compulsive collector who wastes nothing in life who wants nothing more to savor every morsel of Vic’s being, which of course has a few meanings in this instance.
If you live in the Los Angeles area, Taste is not to be missed. A thoughtful and stunning character piece on loneliness and the cannibalization of the human condition, Gordon is in top-form here with an experience that’s as horrific and disturbing as it is tragic and poignant.
© 2014 Daily Dead
To those of you in the Los Angeles area, you are in for a err... delicious treat! Fans of “Master Of Horror” Stuart Gordon know that he comes from a stage background, and now he’s back with a brand new twisted play, TASTE written by Benjamin Brand, which is now officially open at the Sacred Fools Theater. One of the things as a fan I’ve always appreciated about Gordon, both his work in film (or television) and stage is that he’s consistently doing something different and loves playing with his audience. I think the less you know about TASTE, the better. All you really need to know is that it’s loosely based upon the story of the Rotenburg Cannibal. Yep, that was that demented true tale you heard about that guy who sought out a man via the Internet to eat & consume him of his own free will. If you want to know the full gruesome details of that case, you can head over to the Wiki page for Armin Meiwes. There have already been plenty of stories, shorts, films, etc. inspired by this case. Two of my personal favorites include the excellent short film by Drew Daywalt called “Dinner Date,” and also DEXTER IS DELICIOUS, the 5th novel in Jeff Lindsay’s popular Dexter series that inspired the Showtime series of the same name, which does a pretty wild take on this story. (It’s also one of the best of the Dexter novels, by the way.) But Gordon’s approach is totally unique.
It takes place over the course of one evening – the night that the characters of Terry and Vic meet for the first (and last) time. The stage is Terry’s apartment, complete with an operational kitchen, which adds to the sensory aspect of watching the story unfold. In the opening moments, Terry cooks up some diced onions and the smell immediately fills the theater only hinting at what strange surprises are yet to come. The leads are played by Donal Thoms-Cappello (as Terry) and Chris L. McKenna (as Vic). Now, Gordon fans will no doubt recognize McKenna both as the lead from his underrated feature KING OF THE ANTS and as Dan Cain role from RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL. And while I think he does fine work in both of those, he truly shines in TASTE, giving a remarkable and incredible performance as the vulnerable Vic. If anything, you should see this for his performance alone. Donal does fine work here too, playing Terry with a Patrick Bateman-esque playful & obsessive compulsive sense of glee. He seems to be having a blast with the role, whereas McKenna is digging into something much psychologically deeper. I mean, he successfully convinces us that he believes what he’s doing is truly what’s best for him.
Again, I don’t want to delve too much into the details of the actual play because it’s better left unspoiled, but considering this is Gordon, than you can expect the usual trademark black humor that usually comes with his material; although a lot of credit for that also has to go to writer Benjamin Brand, who manages to make what the average person would find to be a repulsive subject, premise & set of characters and yet somehow over the course of the show makes us feel both sympathetic and touched by this pair. It’s as intimate as you can get with these two people and it’s electrifying watching it all unfold. There is a warning before the show of it’s graphic nature and no one under 18 years old will be admitted and it’s for good reason. If you are squeamish to the basic premise itself, or more importantly to strong sexual content, there are a lot of things in this play that will make you terribly uncomfortable. But again, that’s what Gordon does best. There’s always a button he’s willing to push in everything he does that’s intended to make you feel un-at-ease and that’s what I love about his work.
© 2014 Icons of Fright
If you're a horror fan, living in Los Angeles certainly presents some perks. Since moving here, I've seen a dramatic interpretation of The Exorcist, musicals based on Silence of the Lambs and Re-Animator, and even a one-man show featuring the living embodiment of Edgar Allan Poe. Those last two examples were directed by Stuart Gordon and were very much in his "wheelhouse," so to speak - Re-Animator was of course his film to begin with, and he's adapted Poe for the Masters of Horror TV show (plus Poe was played by Jeffrey Combs, a staple in Gordon's films). And now he's back on the Los Angeles stage scene with Taste, which is based on one of the more insane real life crime stories in recent memory, turning it into a very funny but also somewhat touching and sad story of two lonely men who have gone to extremes just to make the sort of human connection that comes naturally to their acquaintances and coworkers.
Interestingly, this too fits in with Gordon's film work - his last feature was Stuck, which was also based on a story so gruesome and bizarre that it seemed made up for a movie in the first place. In that, a woman hit a homeless man with her car, and rather than do the right thing and bring him to the hospital (or do the horrible but sadly not uncommon thing and leave him on the road), she drove home with the guy still embedded in her windshield, leaving him there for days (he died during the process) before getting caught while trying to get rid of the body. However, Taste's story is even more insane - it's based on Armin Meiwes, also known as the Rotenburg Cannibal. If you don't know the story (adapted into a film called Grimm Love), I urge you not to look into it if you plan on seeing the play, which is running until May 17th at the Sacred Fools theater in Los Angeles - I had forgotten some of the details, and thus some of the narrative's surprises were able to wow me all over again.
What I can tell you without the fear of ruining anything is that the play, which takes place in real time (90 minutes) and has no intermission, concerns a man named Terry, who is preparing a meal - and fussing with a video camera - when his guest arrives. This man is Vic, who seems nervous and introverted, fidgeting constantly and stuttering his answers to Terry's basic questions. It seems like a blind date that isn't going too well, but there are hints that something more sinister or at least unusual is developing. It's not until about 40-45 minutes into the play that it becomes exactly (painfully?) clear what Vic is there to do; even if you've figured out the basic gist of what they're up to, it's highly unlikely you'll discern the specifics from their hints until Vic claims that he's ready and Terry comes at him, intentions perfectly clear to everyone in the crowd at that point. It's a shocking moment even if you do know Meiwes' story, because it's happening live on stage in front of you - and you know that the play is only half over.
And this is where I must pay all due respect to actor Chris McKenna as Vic. While Donal Thoms-Cappello is great as Terry, playing a character that can turn from charmingly acerbic to raging asshole in an instant (a hissy fit over the difference between "unique" and "pretty unique" provides one such highlight), McKenna has to perform the 2nd half of the play in a very vulnerable state, performing large monologues in a position that I'd find it difficult to recite my address if I had to be the one up there performing for 100 people. Despite my attempts to talk around it, by now you can probably figure out what's going on (the "must be 18 or over to attend" warning should help, if not), but there are still more twists in the play. What happens after the big "thing" paves the way for the show's surprisingly poignant final scenes, where it becomes abundantly clear that the mere shock value wasn't what Gordon or playwright Benjamin Brand were interested in with their adaptation of this unusual story. Ultimately, the piece comes down to the lengths someone will go to just to be close with someone when the normal ways don't pan out. Sure, (hopefully) no one in the crowd will identify with the exact nature of their relationship, but I'm certain every one of them can sympathize with not fitting in with one crowd or another, and being so relieved to find someone who "gets" you. So what if the shared passion is for ______? The point is that they were able to find some peace and happiness, even if briefly, that they weren't finding in their day to day lives. There's something wonderful about that, even if it's, you know, "gross."
Brand's script does a fine job of laying in some of the details of the real case (such as Terry/Armin's computer-related job) while making the necessary changes to tell a story that would work for the theater (the original "story" played out over several hours), and manages to find humor in the situation even when things seem at their most grim. And special mention must be made of the incredible - and quite large - set that was constructed for the piece, much bigger than I expected given that there are only two people in the entire thing. Re-Animator's set (at a different theater) was pretty compact, but this looks like it could be re-purposed for a sitcom: there's an office area, a big kitchen, and a dining/living room, plus a door off to the (unseen) bathroom. And it's decked out with impressive decor, some of the items to be used for the narrative, others just fleshing out Terry's character a bit for those who want to look around (there's also a fun in-joke for Gordon's fans on the DVD shelf - keep your eyes peeled!). Because of its size, it's possible some seats may not be as ideal as others if you want to get the best look at Gabe Bartalos' impressive makeup FX - I had a perfect view from the front row in the third of the theater's four seating sections (from left to right), so that's my recommendation if you're feeling cocky. And most of the action takes place in the center or the right, so definitely head toward those sections when choosing your seats.
Last year, an attempt to get a Nevermore feature film off the ground didn't quite pan out, but according to IMDb Pro, Gordon's pursuing a feature version of Taste as well. It's been seven years since his last full length film, which bums me out as he's as hungry (and dependable) as he ever was, which isn't something you can say about some of his "Masters of Horror" peers. Gordon's never really found much success at the box office, but he has thrived in the independent world and is constantly trying new things, giving him one of the more eclectic filmographies from that crowd. And he got his start in theater (he directed the premiere of Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, which was the basis for About Last Night), so it's in some ways fitting - and exciting - that he's returned to that area, proving to be 3-3 in his recent productions. Taste may be a harder sell than the others, but it's every bit as entertaining and creative, and comes highly recommended whether you're a fan of Gordon's or just of non-musical, "adult" theater in general.
© 2014 Badass Digest
NOT EASILY DIGESTED, BUT WELL WORTH THE VIEW
Benjamin Brand’s new play, “Taste,” directed by Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator: The Musical”) comes with a warning not to be taken lightly. “Due to strong sexual content and imagery, no one under the age of 18 will be admitted.” The Sacred Fools Theater should add, only consenting adults with open minds and strong stomachs should attend and enjoy a night of provocative theater sprinkled with unsettling humor. Now that I got that out of the way and put aside any reservations I may have over the material, I will act like a mature adult and see beyond the shock value that this company provided.
Going in, I was entertained with the fact that one of my favorite cult horror film directors, Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond”) had directed a play involving two men who agree on a very strange arrangement. One will kill, cook and eat the other. Right away, the audience is prepared for dark humor and a bit of violence. What we get is far more than what we bargained for.
Right off the bat DeAnne Millais’ set design and Matt Richter’s lighting makes us feel like a fly on the wall. It’s an unnerving intimate affect that is coupled by the actual delicious smells from the kitchen. If one looks very carefully they can catch wonderful nuances shouting out to the audience regarding the intentions of the play and a slight nod to its creative team (check out Terry’s DVD collection). Even the costume design proves to be telegraphing a message with a glimpse into these very complex characters.
Terry, played fastidiously manic by Donal Thoms-Cappello, is preparing for the consummate cuisine. He is excited, anxious and with a hint of deviousness preparing to meet and eat a very special dinner guest. Watching Terry at work in the kitchen and setting up for the night with his off-putting smile is like watching a tight rope walker. Is that next step going to make us gasp?
Cappello’s portrayal is captivating and only gets better when his other half arrives. Chris L. McKenna delivers Vic as an awkward mess that brings the uneasy humor, sad clown and desperate human being to the forefront. The man bears his lonely soul and it’s more than a performance, it’s a revelation. These two actors command the stage and breathe such empathy into these characters that they almost have us forgetting about the debauchery that comes along with their tale.
Stuart Gordon’s direction not only brings all the nuances some of us may remember from the old “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” but also delivers his trademark sense of humor and horror. It’s fun at first, then shocking and eventually leaves us breathless with the type of powerhouse production rarely seen. It’s a remarkable feat that brings the playwright’s story to such breathtaking life.
Those who are the slightest bit disturbed by grand guignol or homosexual themes may want to steer clear. That is not to discourage anyone from attending “Taste,” but it serves as a warning for those who could come ill-prepared and may not see past the surface. One must realize that Terry and Vic’s story goes deeper than just an evening of titillation. This is a dire warning of how far loneliness has taken us and the way it is being handled with the age of the internet. Benjamin Brand’s play cries out for us to explore what it’s like to actually feel something again and strip us away of the safety of the numbness (and for some, callousness) so many of us have become accustomed to.
Brand is to be credited with the material that ends up being one of the most uncomfortable yet thought-provoking theatrical experiences since “Equus”. It’s far from mainstream, and caters to only to those who love the originality, power and the art of theater. Brand has a voice that is rarely heard and the Sacred Fools production ends up bringing us to our feet in the end and delivering a well-deserved standing ovation.
“Taste” has been extended to May 31st. I would suggest getting tickets as soon as possible before they sell out. Bring an appetite for an extraordinary night of theater.
© 2014 The Movie Guys
Intimate & Terrifying: TASTE at Sacred Fools
If you value deeply disturbing and deeply moving theatre, hurry to Heliotrope Drive in Hollywood — you have only three more chances to see the birth of a phenomenon. Taste, the Sacred Fools’ new two-hander, closes May 31. Soon afterward, watch for it on stages around the world.
Taste‘s subject is gory and sensational, torn dripping (as it were) from the headlines. That alone would win it notoriety. But first-time playwright Benjamin Brand handles his material with such assured skill, moving so far past the merely macabre, that this astonishing play deserves a place in the canon of modern drama.
Again and again, we in the audience are brought to screaming as an impossible moment, something we utterly do not want to see or participate in, approaches. Again and again, the moment occurs, exploding into our world.
Yet, by the end, we’re actually hoping for the last unthinkable act, praying to share in something we can hardly bear to imagine. Because Brand — and a masterful team of stage artists — has led us past the headlines and horror, and deep into the mysteries of loneliness, longing and love. Deeper than most plays ever go.
Taste is shocking, disgusting, horrifying — and done with delicacy. With taste.
DeAnne Millais’ design sets us in the sleek isolation of high-rise living where, with Emily Donn’s props, we feel the compulsive elegance and culinary passion of Terry (Donal Thomas-Capello) before we meet him. Into his home — through the triple-locked door — comes the rougher-edged, diffident Vic (Chris L. McKenna).
They’re an oddly assorted pair, met on the internet, together for the first time. Terry is a gourmet chef, Vic can’t chop parsley; awkwardly, they share a first course. But this is not a date; it’s the beginning of a bold plan of some sort they’ve hatched online. Both are tremblingly eager, Terry playing cool, Vic stumbling over misgivings.
Gradually, we realize their venture will ultimately involve Vic’s death and transformation by Terry’s kitchen artistry — and the meal’s main course will be more than a little unusual. A foreTaste they can share.
But this first foray proves an appallingly huge step. As the stakes steeply rise, and the consequences become real agony, Terry and Vic find they need to trust each other far more urgently than they knew.
Their struggle toward trust is even more painful than the bloody debacle of the body … but it ends in an earned intimacy that neither has ever known.
Amid many powerful shocks (deftly administered by the special effects of Tony Doublin and Gabe Bartalos), the greatest is that Taste is a love story. Splattered with blood, yet tenderly told.
Director Stuart Gordon moves his story with economy, building tension like the genre veteran he is. He also draws excellently harmonized performances from the actors. Thomas-Capello and McKenna cause us to step back in discomfort from each character’s personality excesses, laughing — then to recoil in horror at what they are doing — and finally to reach for them in empathy.
Skillful touches abound. Jennifer Christine Smith’s costumes are eloquently specific (and, like the set, they cleverly accommodate the special effects). Ben Rock’s soundscape, beginning and ending with a soprano vocalise and passing through the mute thumping of porn tracks, holds us in a world of intense, inarticulate emotion.
Taste frontally assaults our most unconscious boundaries, in a familiar world that never comes undone. It delivers more terror than any horror ride or zombie film. It also reaches boldly into what, beneath fear, connects us — which is what we ask of the best art in any medium.
© 2014 Theatre Ghost
Defining "Taste" at Sacred Fools
“I WANT TO BE A PART OF SOMETHING. I WANTED TO BE A PART OF YOU. TO BE INSIDE YOU. FOREVER.”
Connecting with Taste has been unpredictable, deep and extraordinary. Experiencing both the lead actors and their understudies, even more intriguing.
Now that the run has moved past the glamour of the disquieting gore and audiences have had a chance to, well, digest this piece, what is first worth noting, is how the show has remarkably held up against the cast member changes in this final part of the run.
Ovation Award recommended, Taste, a new play by Benjamin Brand, directed by Stuart Gordon, starring actors Donal Thoms-Capello (Terry), a company member of Sacred Fools, and actor Chris L. McKenna (Vic), serves up more than a few juicy sweet points which no one should ignore.
A lot has already been said. It is a thoughtful, stunning play that deals with loneliness, the human condition, friendship and cannibalism. It is sick. It is tragic. It is poignant. It is beautiful. It is even hysterical; all words and descriptions that are a tribute to what is a masterfully written fiction, taken straight from the headlines.
I never would have thought I’d be taken in as much as I have. Horror, gore, porn, it’s just not my thing. But Taste is so completely intimate and reaches far beyond the expected. The “pull” is intoxicating.
Based on a shocking true story, two men meet online and make a disturbing arrangement: one will kill, cook and eat the other. Taste imagines their one and only meeting, in real time. Yeah, you got it — tough stuff!
It can be a near deadly experiment giving up trust during a short run play, as complex and which has gained as much notoriety as Taste, to an understudy. Although not exactly outlanders, seasoned actors Pete Caslavka and Yuri Lowenthal, both nevertheless, have a lot to live up to. Taste is as unusual and hard-core a script as one could be handed. There is intense work to be done with the character development and choices (so many) and then to keep pace and establish a strong emotional reciprocity with the main leads who already have dynamic momentum, which in the case of Taste, really is unique. There is always a tremendous amount of room for flat-out failure. But did it work? Yes. And in very interesting ways.
Bringing in the understudies one at a time, naturally created a new set of variants, layers and levels. But both Capello and McKenna found their way exquisitely through the challenges allowing Caslavka and Lowenthal to rise up to them.
First look: Chris McKenna playing against understudy, Pete Caslavka. What initially seemed a potential disappointment, without Cappello, turned into a very lively, steady-paced emotional roller coaster; Caslavka playing underneath the character at times, but always on point with a weirdly, first-dinner-date-at-home excitement, initially. McKenna was all-out raw, awkward emotion putting down a gutsy, balls-to-the-walls performance, like nothing that could be imagined, vulnerable, open, trusting, willing. He was absolutely “large” and breathtaking. Neither actor pulled any punches in this show. The intensity was high and the finale left the audience in a state of awe.
Second round: Donal Thoms-Cappello playing against understudy, Yuri Lowenthal. Lowenthal brought a different level altogether. There was more comedy. There was also a lot more stillness and overall clarity with the script by both actors. Lowenthal delivers a much more simple-minded Vic, as opposed to McKenna’s uncomfortable but smart characterization. And his talent for making audiences laugh even at the most horrendous of moments is a relief. Cappello, a naturally gifted actor with an enormous yet quiet emotional register, was downright delicious. Flamboyantly gay, calculating and passive-aggressive, his character and behavior is as detailed and precise as his learned talent for carving flesh which he demonstrates during the evening, showing Vic how he will eventually cut and cook him. The angry moments were physically violent and passionately manipulative with Capello; in the pauses a full spectrum of emotions outwardly display across his face. He maintains a fierce control over the events of the evening.
It is a fight to the end with empathetic interludes revealing the dark reality of both men’s isolation. Ultimately, this performance, although not as explosive as that of McKenna and Caslavka, embodied the inner core of the story.
With both leading men, Cappello and McKenna, back in play, together, for most of the remaining shows, Taste is sure to be unstoppable.
There is nothing superficial about this work. It is profoundly painful to watch these men struggle for connection, and brutal in the ways they do. Yet there is a very real catharsis that takes place in this play. Taste is so wonderfully balanced for the ride that it it. What should be impossible — an unbelievably horrific, disturbing, love story boils down to a gorgeous human experience.
© 2014 Gia on the Move
Stuart Gordon Directs A Bloody Delicious Treat
Filmmaker and stage director Stuart Gordon loves cooking shows so naturally he was drawn to a play about people who eat each other. See what he’s serving up with “Taste” (opening April 11 at Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood).
Gordon explained the appeal of Benjamin Brand’s first play quite simply as: “It’s a cooking show and I like to eat and I think that’s always part of its appeal. But it also, when I first read the script, I got physically affected by it, I had to put it down a few times because it was so strong and when a script has that effect on me that’s always a good sign. Also I loved the writing of the characters, they were very rich and interesting and you care about them and to me that’s always the most important thing about piece is that you really have to care about the people.”
Stuart Gordon may be best known as the man who brought H.P.Lovecraft’s “Re-Animator” to life on both the screen (1985) and the stage (2011 as a musical). Gordon has a penchant for horror and know how to deliver the goods as well as push the boundaries of what the genre is. He is also someone who feels as comfortable working in film as on stage, and that is rare.
“Re-Animator” is one of my all-time favorite films and when he turned it into a musical on stage, I fell in love with it all over again. Part of the appeal of the play was Gordon’s use of practical gore effects that were both campy and stunningly effective.
With “Taste” he once again enters the horror genre and stretches the definition.
Just so I don’t get accused of revealing spoilers, here’s how the play is described at the Scared Fools website: “Ripped from the headlines and based on a real event, ‘Taste’ tells the story of two men who meet online and make a unique arrangement: One man will kill, cook, and eat the other. Over the course of the evening, secrets are revealed, boundaries are tested, and a strange but beautiful relationship unfolds. Deliciously voyeuristic, sinfully elegant, and surprisingly touching, this is ‘Taste.’”
Being a fan of Gordon, I was eager to check out the new work. “Re-Animator The Musical” had been such a delight that I went to LA more than a dozen times to see it and even flew to Scotland to see it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So I went into “Taste” thinking it might provide similar perverse fun. But what I got was completely different from what I expected. It’s a play that pulls you in with a sensational hook about cannibalism and ends up delivering a rather poetic exploration of a very human need to connect with someone else. Like “Re-Animator The Musical,” though “Taste” involves some very clever stagecraft.
The first thing you notice about the play is that the set has a practical kitchen with a working stove and sink.
“That’s one of the things that really drew me to this,” Gordon told me at the preview of the play on April 4, “The idea of having a cooking show where you actually smell the cooking. That’s the thing the theater can do that movies can’t do is really engage the senses. Movies are just optical illusions but theater is alive and anything you can do to emphasize that is always a great plus.”
In the opening scene the character of Terry (Donal Thoms-Cappello) chops onions and cooks them so the whole theater (which is a tiny, intimate venue of about 100 seats) fills with the smell of food. It’s a wonderful way to pull you into the world of the play and make you feel a apart of it. As the play progresses, you are practically placed in the actors laps. On the second night of previews, Gordon Tweeted that an audience member had fainted. It’s an intense experience as the play moves toward a dark, violent and yet surprisingly moving conclusion.
“I love having the audience this close,” says Gordon, “That’s the thing about theater I really like. I feel sometimes that with the big productions you feel miles away, you don’t really get that sense that it’s alive, that it’s really happening before your eyes and that’s what’s nice about a little theater like this.”
Throughout the play, characters talk about “real” moments as what defines reality. It’s a dangerous thing to do because it can pull the audience out of the play and make them very much aware of any artifice in the play.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Gordon said, “because when you have speeches about what is real, the audience is not going to accept anything that isn’t 100 percent real, that feels authentic and so it made it trickier than most plays but I’m lucky that I have such wonderful actors.”
Actors Chris McKenna (an alumnus of “Re-Animator The Musical”) and Donal Thoms-Cappello do a phenomenal job of pulling off not just impressive emotional effects but gore special effects as well. And they do that sometimes within a few feet of the audience.
“Some people are sitting here on the floor in the apartment with us,” McKenna says, “and I feel there’s a sense of danger and a sense of place, once you realize how far we’re going and that we are really doing what it says on the brochure and you’re going to see it, yeah I think it’s exciting and it must pull them in and everyone gets silent and waits to see what happens next and hear gasps.”
Thoms-Cappello agrees, “We don’t have to do too much because when people are this close and this involved, they are more close than they kind of want to be. But they can’t go away. So they are invested, they are there. And they are seeing our points of view.”
McKenna says he learned a lot from doing “Re-Animator” with Gordon: “We did so much right in front of the audience. There were times I was palming blood packs and getting chicken noodle soup in my mouth putting blood in George Wendt’s mouth that I’ve gotten pretty good at this thanks to Stuart. So we have a whole bunch of things that we do right in front of you. So it’s a challenge but they are actually my favorite parts of the show when people can’t figure out how they pulled it off right in front of us.”
Playwright Benjamin Brand originally intended “Taste” as a screenplay but finds that “it’s so much more intense as a play and I was unprepared for that. I think somewhere in my mind as I was writing it initially as a screenplay I knew that whoever was going to direct it was going to be able to cut was going to be able to edit and so things that you see quite baldly on the stage, in the film that was in my head, I thought well they will cut around this. So the scene where Terry [Thoms-Capello’s character] is masturbating Vic [McKenna’s character], I thought you’ll see a shot of his shoulder and then a reaction shot and it will be implied what’s going on but suddenly it’s on stage and you’re seeing these two actors perform this activity and it’s very startling, and so all of the sexuality, all of the violence is so much more intense than I think the film that I was playing in my head as I wrote it. It’s a much more visceral experience as a stage production. I think that maybe it’s more powerful -- especially in these front couple rows -- you’re on the same eye level as these two men and they are sitting next to you and the sweat on their brows is real and the sweat stains on their backs are real and the smell of onions that’s coming through into the audience is real. Obviously the whole thing is performance and even though it’s fiction and I know it’s fake but I’m having an experience that seems counter to what I know in my head is really going on.”
A friend had sent Brand a link to the original news story about the man convicted of having killed and eaten another man.
“I read it and thought God, what in the world motivates these two men, both of them seemed kind of very unknowable and that was interesting to me,” Brand says.
“It is amazing to me that there is so much about cannibalism in the papers these days,” Gordon says, “when we first announced that we were going to do this, the response to it was bigger than any play or movie I’ve ever done. I felt like we were hitting a nerve here.”
Brand recalls, “When I first met with Stuart he started to refer to it as horror and I said I don’t think this is horror. And Stuart said, ‘Oh you’re not one of those people, are you?’ And I fear that I might be. I don’t see it in the horror genre. I see it as a dramatic piece that has these sort of transgressive or violent elements but to me it’s a drama. I think to Stuart it is in the horror genre and because I’m not the director of the play I accept Stuart’s vision and I am enthusiastic about Stuart’s vision.”
But it most definitely is horror. What happens on stage is horrific, it’s visceral, and its riveting. To Stuart, being in the horror genre is nothing to be ashamed of.
“Shakespeare used horror to keep the groundlings interested,” he says, “and to keep the play moving along. ‘King Lear,’ which is sometimes considered to be his greatest play has a guy who’s eyes are being gouged out on stage. He uses gore effects in his plays a lot. In ‘Titus Andronicus,’ it’s wall-to-wall carnage really. But even in all of his tragedies if he were just to present poetry we wouldn’t remember him today. Benjamin’s play is very touching. It really is a love story. In a sense it is about a relationship from beginning to end, boiled down to an hour and a half.”
“I guarantee that no one coming in reading the brochure is going to get what they expect,” McKenna adds, “People don’t realize how funny it will be and how moved, how touching, how human the story is and that’s why I’ve been in love with this script for years. You take such a horrific subject matter that sounds so insane and you make it human, like show you how to start to understand these people and see inside them, you take an unbelievable event and make it real and bring you in. People leave here moved and uplifted. Yes uplifted.”
© 2014 KPBS