By John Quinn
Local playwright Sean Paraventi’s new work shares its title with Bo Diddley’s 1956 R & B hit, “Love is Strange,” but its plot is better summed up by the second line of the song – “Lot of people take it for a game.” When the players are Carl and Megan – played by Joel Mitchell and Katie Terpstra – love is a deadly, depraved game. When birds of a feather flock together, sociopathy is as contagious as avian flu.
Since Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company is staging “Love is Strange” in the intimate Abreact Performance Space, an audience’s instinct is to pull away for fear of contamination. Yet the story is so disturbing we are drawn back in, seeking, if not resolution, at least some closure.
It’s been three years since Carl, a long-distance trucker, picked up a 13-year-old runaway named Megan at an Arkansas truck stop. At 16, Megan feels, in a pathetic innocence, that she’s a fully adult woman and worthy partner for Carl. Generally left trapped in Carl’s isolated home when he’s working, she is mistress of the house, mistress of the bedroom and willing participant in Carl’s gruesome fetish. Describing that in detail spoils the plot, but suffice it to say that Carl is one mean mother trucker.
“Love is Strange” runs only about an hour and a half, which means it’s a very lean script, without diversions. The audience’s perception of the characters is constantly challenged. What would appear a classic case of Stockholm syndrome, in which a captive begins to identify with the captor, becomes a more sinister balancing act. Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates keeps the plot rolling, even through the final revelation scene, which does seem to drag a tad. She is not afraid to give her cast free rein, so the graphic violence central to the story is chillingly visceral.
In the Playwright’s Notes, Paraventi comments that he “didn’t set out to be shocking or disturbing.” “Love is Strange” is less shocking than it is disturbing. But he goes on, noting the twisted world in which Carl and Megan live, “Sometimes those worlds are uncomfortable places.”
Theater has the ability to rip you out of your comfort zone, forcing you into a wider perception of reality. “Love is Strange” is a provocative piece. It’s not for the squeamish, only the adventuresome.
‘Love is Strange’
Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company at The Abreact Performance Space, 1301 W. Lafayette #113, Detroit. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through April 26, plus 3 p.m. Sunday, April 13. 1 hour, 40 minutes; no intermission. $15-18. 313-454-1542. http://www.magentagiraffe.org This play contains mature content that may be shocking to some audience members, including violence, sexuality, and graphic language. No minors will be admitted without a parent present.