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Photograph by Scott McClelland

Job Hopefuls: Sean Murphy (from left), Katie Thies and Whitney Stebbins hope to 'Eat the Runt' in Renegade Theatre Experiment's new production.

Survival of the Shiftiest

The Renegade Theatre Experiment asks the audience to help cast each edition of 'Eat the Runt'

By Marianne Messina

THOUGH I DID ATTEND a recent production of Avery Crozier's Eat the Runt at Benson Theatre, it's not likely to be the same production anyone else will see. In the version I saw, Merritt (Kevin Kelly), a young man interviewing for a position at a museum, wins over a gay interviewer, Royce (BJ Murphy), by seducing him with a foot massage. On a different evening, Merritt could be a woman interviewing with another woman, named Royce.

Each performance begins by introducing the actors and describing the characters--Royce, for example, is described as "unprofessional, promiscuous, a power tripper." And then, with the help of a master of ceremonies (Gabriel O. Esparza), the audience uses applause to decide who will play each role. The characters' names are sexually ambiguous, allowing for all kinds of interesting couplings as Merritt seduces his or her way through the multiple interviews.

Crozier enjoys calling this play "an actor's nightmare" because it puts actors in the position of not knowing what their roles will be until minutes before a show. But certainly no less an actor's nightmare is the fact that each actor must learn all the roles. The Renegade Theatre Experiment's company of actors lived up to their name in smoothly tackling the nightmare of memorization with only a couple of well-covered stumbles.

At the performance I took in, Kelly, as Merritt, manipulating each interviewer's hidden or not-so-hidden agenda, was suitably unctuous. And Whitney Q. Stebbins made sure that her "on the ball" character, Chris, gathered up the audience sympathy needed to make the final scene rewarding. Perhaps Evangeline Maynard made the most sweeping transformation, going from the "Vangie" of her preshow introduction to the "jittery, detail-oriented" Hollis. She played her slightly over-the-top Hollis on a perpetual verge of tears, and yet this tone of caricature seemed the most appropriate for the material.

Crozier may have taken his "cultural issues," which included the "fluidity of identity," a little too seriously. The Wilgefortis interlude was heavy-handed (as if we needed an androgynous icon to get the point), as were two Ayn Rand discussions and the bombastic literary bonding between Merritt and the museum director. Only some of the interviews that invoked the theater of the absurd worked. The scene in which a second interviewee yells, "You're him!" at the "unhip" Sidney and proceeds like some fanatical cultist to chase after him with an ancient relic was a yawnsome sketch. But when Merritt sat down for his interview with the "sensitive" HR coordinator, Jean (Iris Benson), and the first thing out of his mouth was "My anus hurts," from which he went on to talk about his "bad-luck butt" and "hyperbolic anal sex," now that was funny. It was lowbrow humor, not intellectual pith, that ultimately succeeded in Eat the Runt.


Eat the Runt, a Renegade Theatre Experiment production, plays Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm through Aug. 9 at Benson Theatre, Elm and Emory streets, Santa Clara. Tickets are $10/$15 on Wednesday-Thursday and $12/$18 on Friday-Saturday. (408.351.4440)


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From the August 7-13, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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