The best kind of horrifying
|Red Theater Chicago presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Taste is absolutely not for the faint of heart. I feel like this statement bears repeating: Taste is absolutely not for the faint of heart. It’s bloody, graphic and horrific beyond measure. It’s also darkly funny, unexpectedly emotional and very, very well-done. (Pun intended.) Aside from its previous misstep, Year of the Rooster, Red Theater Chicago is proving itself a force this season. On the heels of its R+J: The Vineyard remount, Red Theater goes from star-crossed love to an entirely different kind of relationship: one where a man agrees to murder, cook and eat another man. Yes, you heard that right. Taste is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and if you have a strong stomach and a sick sense of humor, I highly recommend this Chicago premiere.
The 90-minute one-act begins with Terry (Gage Wallace), a dapper and cheerful man, blithely chopping onions in his kitchen and setting up a video camera (stopping briefly to admire himself on screen). The apartment buzzer sounds, and in walks Vic (Kevin V. Smith), who is as shy and stuttering as Terry is kidding and confident. They’ve met online and talked extensively about this evening’s activity. Terry is an enthusiastic chef and wine snob, eager to embark on this new challenge. Vic has lost the will to live, but wants to be a part of something, someone, forever. He needs Terry. Terry needs him. But of course, things don’t turn out as simply as they began.
Taste could have gone wrong in so many ways – and I’m not talking about Vic and Terry’s nefarious and strangely sad plan. Taste is a difficult play: the before, during and after of two people about to commit an act beyond so many of our imaginations. In the wrong hands, it could be terribly exploitative and one-sided. Not so with Benjamin Brand’s script, which knows just when to push the audience and when to insert a little joke, a moment of dark humor, a gaffe that temporarily throws one or both of the men off course. Director Aaron Sawyer isn’t afraid to take the words one step further and challenge the audience to step far, far outside their collective comfort zone. Taste has the funny and gross vibes of a quality indie horror flick: taking the at once creative and mundane act of cooking, and infusing it with a sinister vibe and a philosophical query.
Not every production team can handle such a specific and graphic story, but Taste boasts the crème de la crème of Chicago theater sickos. Sound designer and composer Maxwell J. Shults provides a lovely, gritty score, and properties designer Angela M. Campos knows her way around knives. Catherine Woods ably provides a very specific “rabbit” prop (you’ll understand when you see it), and Ryan Oliver’s special effects are both disgusting and wonderful. Finally, each actor elevates what could have been high camp to high art. Red Theater Company ensemble member Wallace is at his finest: his Terry is diabolical, nasty and weirdly very likable. Smith is a perfect foil: nervous and sad, a man on the verge of an unspeakable act. He’s terrified, but resigned, with a sense of peace. Their relationship varies wildly but organically from one moment to the next, and through a series of seamless beats, the audience is compelled and reviled by both.
I’ll admit, I have an affinity for blood and guts. In its scarier moments, Taste dared me not to look away, forcing me to evaluate life choices I’d never dreamed existed. My stomach turned, my gag reflex activated, and thanks to the stellar work of all involved, I left Taste disturbed and elated, exiting the theater into the harsh light of day vowing vegetarianism, at least for a day.
Taste continues through May 22nd at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map), with performances Tuesdays and Wednesdays 7:30pm, Saturdays 3pm, Sundays 7:30pm. Tickets are free – reserve your seat(s) here. More information at RedTheater.org. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. Note: This production involves strong sexual content, imagery and violence. Viewer discretion is advised. No one under age 18 will be admitted.)
Photos by M. Freer Photos
behind the scenes
Aaron Sawyer (director), Adam Goldworm, Janette Bauer (producers), Jennifer Roseman (stage manager), Joseph Pindelski (dramaturg), Liam Fitzgerald (technical director), Eric Luchen (scenic design), Brenda Scott Wlazlo (costume design), Chazz Mallott (lighting design), Maxwell J. Shults (sound design, composer), Angela M. Campos (properties design), Catherine Woods (rabbit props designer), Ryan Oliver (special effects design), Matthew Freer (trailer director), Zach Livingston (fight choreographer), Simone Zebot, Anni Pape (directors of accessibility), Giordon Stark (accessibility engineer), M. Freer Photos (photographer)