Øystein Johansen’s A thing of Beauty @ STUK

The second play of this night. I read it  was about the mind of a serial killer. Ugh. I really have no interest in serial killers. I like my evil wild and metaphorical, thank you very much. Not depressing, sad and happening in the real world. I considered asking Jan if we could skip this one and go home early, get some sleep. I was pretty sleep deprived. It’s not that I couldn’t sleep through the night, I just had a hard time getting to bed in time. I was matching Jan’s waking time and he’d just moved it up to 6:30 am. Harsh! I’d even resorted to putting a daily alarm on my phone to tell me when to turn the computer off. Sadly, this will be relevant later.

As it turned out, the programme gave us little opportunity to leave and we weakly floated along with the stream of viewers from one hall to the next. We are very familiar with the STUK halls by now, they’re like old friends that look different everytime you see them. The Studio was set up for yet another intimate performance: a small space with two long rows of folding chairs on each side.

I noticed the guy sitting by himself as we came in. He looked a bit off, but I thought it was the awkwardness of waiting for someone while sitting there all by yourself. But as more and more people sat down, he walked to the middle and started the play. I was disappointed. One actor? You have to be really good (read: Valentijn Dhaenens) to pull of a play-length monologue, and this one was about serial killers….

actor

He started talking about his house. The front garden, the roses, the garden path. The way his parents would lean against the door. He was awkward and endearing, like a geek. I have a great big soft spot for geeks, with and without social skills. Being muscular and handsome didn’t hurt, of course. I liked him. He made eyecontact with a lot of people, talked to them a bit, like we were the visitors to his house and he was being a gracious host. There was a definite creepy undertone, but at first it was muffled and easy to ingore: the fear didn’t really set in.

But it crept up. Everything crept up. The handsomeness and attraction completely disappeared as you slowly realised there was something really wrong here. He started to describe the bodies of dead animals he would find in the garden, and what he would do with them. The description of the house would repeat, but would be slightly, jarringly different all the time. I found this particularly creepy. Like we, the audience, were a series of people all visiting the house in our own time, each hearing his these little well-travelled speeches and soulsearching, each never leaving this house again.

As you got more accustomed to the story, the little gestures, poses and looks would start to take the stage and almost tell the entire story of a twisted soul all by itself.  And, miraculously, in a 21st century made up of jaded people, fear and anxiety set in. You could hear it in the tense creaking of the fold up chairs, in the nervous adjustment of clothing.

He would ask people if he could take pictures of them with a crappy polaroid camera. Some would shake their head, uncomfortably. Others would nod, no less uncomfortable, and look into the camera without smiling. He would wait for the polaroid to come out and would carefully put it into a little box, already quite stuffed with pictures. Each time he would say “So I have something to remember you by”.

At this point I realised that we were not guests in his house. We were chained up in his basement and the intimate tone with he was using talking to us (like we were sipping tea on his couch) made sense only to him. Hence the questions: “Are you cold?” “Are you thirsty?” “You look confused. Are you puzzled?” “are you comfortable?”

He asked Jan to sit on the couch with him. Jan didn’t say anything. The guy moved his hands to direct Jan’s gaze towards certain points of his shirtless body. It was a small thing, but it made clear that the awkward geek was now in total control of the entire audience. A power transfer had taken place.

At this point, my own fear had become quite enjoyable and I immersed myself more in the experience to increase it. But I soon got more than I had expected as halfway through his singing a very creepy song my alarm went off. You remember, that alarm I had set to help me remember to go to sleep in time? Apparently it overrides Silent Mode.

He was hovering over me in a flash and… Well, every play I go to I’m mortified of this possibly happening. Except this time I wasn’t embarassed because I made a cell phone go off in the middle of a tense play, I was scared to bits because I drew the attention of the serial killer! I shakingly turned my phone off and when he said “She ruined my song! She ruined my song…” I realised I was going to die.

The play continued, only now I was in it, physically and mentally. When I was asked a question, I discovered I couldn’t talk anymore, only croak. I, too, posed for a picture and ended up in the box of polaroids to remember me by. I realised why no one smiled in the pictures.

Nudity happened, perfect body now no longer attractive in any way. The lights went off, which kept being followed by furious violent action we could only deduce by sound and unpleasant implications. When the light went out the last time, it was very quiet. No one dared to clap.

So, you know, serial killers? They’re pretty damn interesting.
And monologues? Monologues are pretty damn good.
And phones? Well, you should always turn them off in the theatre, but this one turned out okay.

(Though, if you’re reading this I’m still very sorry, Marius and Øystein! Please still let me come to your next plays. I’m already looking forward to them!)

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