The ventriloquist’s dummy has worries far beyond the insect world. Sure, he complains of termites mulching his innards: “It’ll leave me lisping before long. I’m coughing up sawdust!” But pine-boy’s real troubles begin when he notices a wedding ring on his master’s hand—”a finger puppet on the side.” Quicker than you can say Fatal Attraction, this modern-day Charlie McCarthy reveals himself as one warped piece of wood.
Of course, in the off-kilter theatrical world created by writer-performer Clay McLeod Chapman, a dummy with big-time psychosexual hang-ups and abandonment issues should come as no surprise. In Nocturnal Emissions, the latest in McLeod’s five-year-old performance series, emotional exigencies and barbarous bodies take center stage. Backed by the band One Ring Zero and assisted by guest performer Zach Nighton, Chapman highlights humanity at its most macabre.
On a bare set, lit only by a colored spot, Chapman plays an avatar of bed-wetting, the master of the above-mentioned dummy, an old biddy flirting with a murderous fox, and a cannibal Cub Scout. Emphasis is placed on the body at its least civilized: pissing, gorging, drooling, and fisting all figure prominently. Chapman delights in inhabiting these troublesome creatures, never reducing them to simple gross-outs. And he endows each character with singular speech and mannerisms, performing with an energy bordering on the frenetic. So although the monologues suffer a novelistic taint—heavy on description, light on action—Chapman’s acting somehow redeems them. Chapman describes his style as “Southern-fried gothic.” In Nocturnal Emissions, it cooks up pretty tasty.