New York

Torture Chorus, Breakfast With The Moors Murderers

Franklin Furnace

Los Angeles’ principle contribution to performance has been a kind of homemade Dada cabaret. It’s characteristics include a deliberately naive presentation, scabrous and childish subject matter, a mocking humor, and a blurring of the boundaries between performance and outrageous behavior—a desire to shock at any cost. Located in an ill-defined gray zone between offbeat comedy, new vaudeville, punk rock, and a let’s-put-on-a-show theater, this hybrid form has not traveled well, so much does it depend on the ambient context of Southern California anomie and rage, of one-time, undefined clubs and free-floating anarchy. A recent performance by Torture Chorus proved to be no exception: the group’s New York effort seemed to be completely drained of its purported ferocious wit by the presentational frame. It was not clear that the performance had ended until, after a long, confusing pause, the performers themselves began to clap from offstage.

Too bad. Grafting promisingly sick subject matter—a British couple who tape-recorded and filmed their numerous torture-murders of children—onto a vaudeville/sitcom structure (Torture Chorus has dubbed itself “splattervillain” theater) would seem to have a high potential for L.A. dadaesque exploration. But Stephen Holman’s Ian Brady was more cartoonlike than eerie, and nothing was made of the contrast between Laura Richmond’s stage role as Myra Hindley and her real-life role as a Playboy Playmate. The actress’ ingenue-like wholesomeness and wandering British accent (which only intermittently cut through her Texas twang) created an unexamined paradoxical subtext to her supposed persona as the warped helpmate to a severe psychopath.

Only a couple of extremely brief moments offered a hint of the nasty fun laced with frisson to which the genre aspires. The splenetic Brady abruptly halted one of his rants by handing out writing by the Marquis de Sade—and then harangued a front-row audience member to kill the person sitting next to them. Startled laughter gave way to squirming as Brady continued his demand beyond the point of comedy, though not long enough. Another terrifically confused segment featured a bickering Brady and Hindley screening their home movies, scenes of Holman and Richmond re-staging picnics at the burial sites of victims and episodes of amateur pornography. Ironically, the distancing effect of film brought an ass-backwards authenticity to the Torture Chorus’ willful artificiality. Holman and Richmond’s pathetic simulations of real-life pathetic behavior approached only fleetingly any sort of black humor or moral anarchy.

John Howell