Directed by: Keland Sher
Red Tape Theatre/ St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
Going back to prom just weirder.
To understand the premise of the Les Enfants Terribles: Prom Night show at the Red Tape Theatre, one must first understand the logic behind the bouffant, or buffoon, character. The bouffant is a French derived “clown” act that keys in on the grotesque and absurd facets of human nature, rather than the vibrant and cheerful ones we’re used to seeing at the circus. Basically, they are the anti-clown. There’s no face paint, red nose, or balloon animals. Instead we see a group of awkward and deformed misfits singing and shuffling about in an eerie, yet humorous fashion. Humorous, to those with an acquired sense of humor, that is. Think of a more bizarre version of Blue Man Group on a shoestring budget.
The premise of this interactive show is quite simple. Its prom night 2010, and we as the audience are all invited. As you walk into the gymnasium, (yes, the show actually takes place in a bona fide gym, not unlike where several past proms may have taken place), you’re greeted by two white-bread American teenagers and a nerdy shutterbug, played by Ryan Lempka, Amanda Beth Miller, and Jonathan Helvey, respectively. Streamers are in the ceiling, a punch bowl and refreshment stand sit off to the side, and the stage is set with the two thrones awaiting the new prom king and queen. And don’t forget the dancing. Yes, it’s a perfect night that is until six bouffants, played by Scott Ray Merchant, Casey Kells, Alex Kyger, Christopher Paul Mueller, Brian Rad, Eric Ryan Swanson, emerge and take over the prom. That’s the first 5 minutes. The other 55 are for the few who can appreciate a very esoteric brand of humor. Thankfully I’m one of those people.
This show exemplifies the classic “fish out of water” conflict, by placing the social outcast, or borderline mutant, into the world of the socially elite. When the bouffants enter for the first time, they seem disorientated, like they’re walking and talking for the first time. How could they possibly understand what prom is, much less the ceremony that takes place there? Then, out of nowhere, the bouffants start to sing standard prom tunes, with great harmony I might add, spiking punch, and yes even trying to get laid. (Keep your eye on the shy bouffant with the giant phallus) All of prom’s great rites of passage are noted here. Obviously, inappropriate for kids, but the audience is younger twenty-somethings anyway.
It’s unclear as to what is improvised and what the director Keland Sher is guiding. What is clear is the study of the social casting and the awkwardness of youth during prom season. The rest of the show is completely subjective.
Most of the audience seemed to have fun, despite the absence of air conditioning. Note: If you have any heat sensitivity, I would not recommend this show purely based on venue. But if you’re into the tradition of Chicago’s interactive, experimental theatre scene then you might want to give Les Enfants Terribles: Prom Night a spin. Just try to go on a cool night.
John B. Reinhardt
Date Reviewed: July 19, 2010
For full show information, check out the LES ENFANTS TERRIBLES: PROM NIGH page at TheatreInChicago.
Red Tape Theatre, located inside St. Peter’s Episcopal Church/ Second Floor/, 621 W. Belmont Ave. Chicago / $20 general admission / Running time approximately 60 minutes/ July 22nd through August 14th, Thursdays through Sundays, 8pm