Intimate & Terrifying: “Taste” at Sacred Fools

If you value deeply disturbing and deeply moving theatre, hurry to Heliotrope Drive in Hollywood — you have only three more chances to see the birth of a phenomenon.  Taste, the Sacred Fools’ new two-hander, closes May 31.  Soon afterward, watch for it on stages around the world.

Taste‘s subject is gory and sensational, torn dripping (as it were) from the headlines.  That alone would win it notoriety.  But first-time playwright Benjamin Brand handles his material with such assured skill, moving so far past the merely macabre, that this astonishing  play deserves a place in the canon of modern drama.

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Donal Thomas-Cappello and Chris L. McKenna

Again and again, we in the audience are brought to screaming as an impossible moment, something we utterly do not want to see or participate in, approaches.  Again and again, the moment occurs, exploding into our world.

Yet, by the end, we’re actually hoping for the last unthinkable act, praying to share in something we can hardly bear to imagine.  Because Brand — and a masterful team of stage artists — has led us past the headlines and horror, and deep into the mysteries of loneliness, longing and love.  Deeper than most plays ever go.

Taste is shocking, disgusting, horrifying — and done with delicacy.  With taste.

DeAnne Millais’ design sets us in the sleek isolation of high-rise living where,  with Emily Donn’s props, we feel the compulsive elegance and culinary passion of Terry (Donal Thomas-Capello) before we meet him.  Into his home — through the triple-locked door — comes the rougher-edged, diffident Vic (Chris L. McKenna).

They’re an oddly assorted pair, met on the internet, together for the first time.  Terry is a gourmet chef, Vic can’t chop parsley; awkwardly, they share a first course.   But this is not a date; it’s the beginning of a bold plan of some sort they’ve hatched online. Both are tremblingly eager, Terry playing cool, Vic stumbling over misgivings.

Gradually, we realize their venture will ultimately involve Vic’s death and transformation by Terry’s kitchen artistry — and the meal’s main course will be more than a little unusual.  A foretaste they can share.

But this first foray proves an appallingly huge step.  As the stakes steeply rise, and the consequences become real agony, Terry and Vic find they need to trust each other far more urgently than they knew.
Their struggle toward trust is even more painful than the bloody debacle of the body … but it ends in an earned intimacy that neither has ever known.

Amid many powerful shocks (deftly administered by the special effects of Tony Doublin and Gabe Bartalos), the greatest is that Taste is a love story.  Splattered with blood, yet tenderly told.

Director Stuart Gordon moves his story with economy, building  tension like the genre veteran he is.  He also draws excellently harmonized performances from the actors.  Thomas-Capello and McKenna cause us to step back in discomfort from each character’s personality excesses, laughing — then to recoil in horror at what they are doing — and finally to reach for them in empathy.

Skillful touches abound.  Jennifer Christine Smith’s costumes are eloquently specific (and, like the set, they cleverly accommodate the special effects).  Ben Rock’s soundscape, beginning and ending with a soprano vocalise and passing through the mute thumping of porn tracks, holds us in a world of intense, inarticulate emotion.

Taste frontally assaults our most unconscious boundaries, in a familiar world that never comes undone.  It delivers more terror than any horror ride or zombie film.  It also reaches boldly into what, beneath fear, connects us — which is what we ask of the best art in any medium.

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Taste, by Benjamin Brand, directed by Stuart Gordon.
At the Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Drive, LA 90004.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, through May 31.

Tickets:  $25.  <www.sacredfools.org> or (310)281-8337.