'Automobile Graveyard' at the Trapdoor Theatre (Chicago)
"Automobile Graveyard," a post-apocalyptic tragi-farce from 1958 in which the principal character ends up beaten and crucified on a bicycle, is not your typical summer fare. But some folks are clearly still in search of startling, challenging theater in the hotter months.
From Stanislaw I. Witkiewicz to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Trap Door has, over the past seven years, carved a distinctive niche reviving the European avant-garde and reviving it quite well. Nicole Wiesner, one of the main performers in Michael S. Pieper's current production, seems to specialize in playing Trap Door's hookers and victims of sexual sadism. She has suffered so much physical degradation while wearing so little clothing on this stage over the years that you wonder what she must tell her family about her night job.
In "The Automobile Graveyard," in which Wiesner's character, Dila, is used for sexual favors by almost every other person on the stage, one constantly fears for the personal dignity of this talented artist. But she easily supplies the play's vital emotional core.
Not for the squeamish or easily offended, Arrabal's work has Samuel Beckett beat when it comes to the depiction of pointless cruelty. Set in a junkyard that operates like it's a hotel (complete with an especially accommodating room service), "The Automobile Graveyard" is to some extent a Christian allegory, complete with betrayal, beatings and the crucifixion of a guitar-strumming pacifist. But Arrabal often admitted that he could never conceive of love without violence, and so the 80-minute play is a veritable orgy of jumbled images from myth, ritual and erotica. Tough and twisted, Arrabal makes Artaud's work feel like the theater of gentility.
Under Pieper's sure-footed direction, Trap Door's cast (featuring the ubiquitous but effective Danny Belrose) throws itself into this depiction of human agony with its usual abandon. There are few isolated, overblown moments when performers unwisely lapse into archetype. But if you are into this kind of twisted thing, you had better snag a spot on the Trap Door floor for a no-holds-barred look at the barren remains of the world's technological nightmare.
Through Sept. 30 at the Trap Door Theatre 1655 W. Cortland Ave. : 773-384-0494.
Chris Jones. Chicago Tribune