By Venus Zarris

You arrive at 1317 W. Chicago Avenue to find a metal door, unmarked except for a small poster of the play. You enter the door to find yourself in a tiny makeshift foyer, framed with two-by-fours that are covered with opaque plastic. You are pleasantly told that the space may get cold so feel free to use the blankets provided on the seats. You walk into a raw warehouse; exposed brick walls, plastic substituted for a drop-ceiling. The room is dark and the atmosphere subtly hints of dissidence. There is an old television on the stage playing footage of street riots. This is not, as the play’s title might suggest, the set for a frolicking albeit dated sex flick. Before PORN even begins, you feel as if you are hiding from the prying eyes of institutionalized suppression. The stark venue is perfect for this stark story.

“We live in troubled times. We should be cautious, even if it’s useless.”

As we enter the bleak world of playwright Adrás Visky’s PORN (1989. A butterfly.), we meet The Girl: Code Name Porn. This is how she is referred to in countless dossiers that are created by her neighbor, code name SKUNK, as he reports on her every move to the secret police. She is an actress who, in the midst of the Romanian revolution of 1989, presents free open-air performances for the street children that she calls “her little dirty ones.” How can this be perceived as a political threat? Free thought and hope are always the enemies of an evil institution. If you’re an artist living under a corrupt system and the system doesn’t target you, then perhaps it’s time to question your work.

PORN (1989. A butterfly.) takes us through an emotional kaleidoscope of characters and circumstances that realize the destitution of life under the iron fist of Nicolae Ceauşescu, the Romanian communist party leader, near the frantic end of his hostile regime. Visky’s stylized visions are impressionistic interpretations of autobiographical horrors. You are watching a historically violent reality through the surprisingly lovely filters of a poet; surprising because of the tenderness that he employs to render his harsh stories.

“Calm down, I speak my mind and there is no cure for it.”

If not for its foundation in true stories from a very real revolution, PORN would make for a beautifully bleak Orwellian counterpart. Visky’s form, delivered by director Éva Patkó and her exceptional cast, is a richly textured theatrical phantasm of intimacy, intensity, subjugation and imagination. The form does not always follow the function of creating a complete expository impact. We feel the delicate build but the eviscerating conclusion is far more distant than immediate. Perhaps Visky is allowing us to dodge a direct hit from the bullets of brutality that he has witnessed and survived. There is certainly more mercy in his artistic restraint than he experienced in his real life.

“How many murderers does a suicide have?”

Rest assured though that this is no light telling of a dark tale. The immeasurable complexity of emotion is given an astonishing reality by Melissa Lorraine as The Girl. Lorraine steps on the stage in such an unassuming way that you have no inclination of what you are in store for. As she vividly crafts the unconventional story of an endearingly eccentric and passionate actress, we find ourselves under the spell of a performer with almost preternatural powers. She can go from wild-eyed manic to hushed introspection on a dime without the slightest hint of technique. In the midst of absolute suppression, she realizes a character with childlike vulnerability and almost oblivious strength. The Girl’s destiny is decidedly hopeless early on, but Lorraine does not create a victim or a pawn. Rather she creates a person that shows us how resilience can exist through unyielding purpose and love can happen in the center of despondency. The Girl stands against the system without bravado and Lorraine holds us transfixed in Visky’s evocative writing. Much like in her 2010 performance of Visky’s Juliet, we see a resplendent paring of performer with playwright. Much like in 2010, Lorraine delivers one of the year’s most uniquely spellbinding performances.

Of all of the deserved accolades that can be lavished on Theatre Y’s mission and breathtaking work, perhaps the most accurately deserved is an imagined prescient hypothetical. If they were creating their art under a corrupt and brutal regime, they would no doubt have already been imprisoned and would quite possibly be dead by now. Given that peculiar theoretical paradigm, when viewing their work it is as if you are watching the ghosts of great artists poignantly, vehemently and posthumously rage against the very structural machine of human deprivation. Even in a “free” country, Theatre Y’s work is beautifully subversive. Since we are always just an election or two away from the potential of crushing suppression, their insight is always imperatively relevant.

Completed with powerfully effective artistic design, Theatre Y’s remarkable world premiere of playwright Adrás Visky’s PORN (1989. A butterfly.) is a ravishing theatrical gift that should not be missed.

4 STARS

(“PORN (1989. A butterfly.)” runs through December 2 at a warehouse, 1317 W. Chicago Ave. 708-209-0183)

Porn

PORN (1989. A butterfly.) production photos by Devron Enarson.

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