By Townsend Gorey
Directed by Will Provost
At North House
This weekend and next
GOOD THEATER is not always entertaining. A Nite-Lite, a one-act play by Townsend Gorey, is a provocative drama which addresses the issue of the homeless in a profoundly disturbing, and often disgusting manner.
Like last year's film Blue Velvet, A Nite-Lite explores the seamy underside of human nature, forcing its audience to descend into the depths of perversity and look at what one character describes as "the part of the light that is dark." The play's action centers around a seemingly upstanding, All-American youth's sadistic abuse of a homeless person found asleep on his doorstep.
The play is prefaced by a black and white home movie-type film by Gorey and director Will Provost that features some interesting Boston and Cambridge street scenes, but which is far too long and has little immediate relevance to its theatrical counterpart. The bizarre creative imaginations of Gorey and Provost are utilized more effectively through the course of the play itself.
When we first meet the young protagonist of A Nite-Lite, acted with appropriate repulsiveness by the playwright, he is returning home from work, dressed respectably in suit and tie. His initial encounter with the motionless, battered body beside his front door arouses his sense of pity. He addresses the formless mass politely as "sir," and even brings out a plate of food. But as the homeless person fails to acknowledge these gestures, the young man grows increasingly annoyed and impatient. He begins throwing scraps of food at the human heap of rags and soon dumps the entire plate, as well as a bottle of ketchup, upon this defenseless creature. He begs the still figure to fight back, or to ask for help, but elicits only several painful groans.
Soon, this sick young man has brought out an entire bag of groceries (including maraschino cherries, pickled peppers, and peanut butter) which he proceeds to dump on the vagrant, splattering the stage and, occasionally, the front rows of the audience. This central event culminates in a failed attempt to snap a photograph--what the young man describes as a "me picture"--while urinating on the human pile of garbage he has just created.
If the disgusting perversity of this scene doesn't turn your stomach, the stench arising from the stage will. This riveting horror show violates your moral, psychological, and physical sensibilities. The remainder of the play centers on the less brutal offense of indifference to the homeless, out this form of moral apathy, of course, can offer no real comfort.
Provost has staged this production in the intimate Holmes Living Room at North House, creating a disturbingly homey atmosphere. His unusual mix of a formal stage with a boundless theatre-in-the-round sweeps his audience into the midst of the play's action. You can't help feeling that you are somehow participating in a sadistic scene--relegated to the ineffectual position of a voyeur. This is not a comfortable role to play, and A Nite-Lite is far from a comfortable theatrical experience.