NAMBLA Love Letter

Mysterious Skin at Rude Guerrilla

Act One ends with a violent (and all-nude) anal rape at one side of the stage and a young man sobbing during an enthusiastic handjob at the other. One man's getting his face beat, the other—sorry—his meat. Both are loud and scary—the screams, the cries, the slap-slap of dick—and the audience sat traumatized to the strains of "My Favorite Things" until a giggling stagehand whispered, "It's intermission."

Naturally, Act Two was worse.

Don't expect Love Lettersfrom the Rude Guerrilla.

Damage. Photo by Jay M. Fraley
Damage. Photo by Jay M. Fraley

Mysterious Skinsignals early on that our two traumatized young heroes will intertwine themselves (and, oh, how they will) and parallel to get to the story of what really happened when they were 8 and 10 in Kansas. Their town may host the longest grain elevator in the world—the world, not just the country!—but this is the Kansas of In Cold Blood. Auntie Em was probably ax-murdered in her sleep.

Each has a woman who wants to consume him. Brian (Tim Zimmer) is a nerd loved wholly and threateningly by a frumpy woman of early middle age who hasn't another friend in the world and thinks they've both been abducted by aliens; Brian is scared to death and frozen in time. Neil (Keith Bennett) is a street hustler with a cool, punk fag hag who wants nothing more than to keep him safe and to herself; Neil, who has a daddy fetish and a taste for rough trade, is acting out. The women are wonderful: the frump, Avalyn (Kerry Perdue), gives us a lisping eccentric who dresses in prairie garb like Nicki in Big Love but with a KISS concert T-shirt under her clothes and a libido that's been smothered till now. She has wonderful lines, all-blabbermouth peppiness and stunted love, the joy of finally finding a fellow UFO traveler. She writes with a pink troll-doll pen.

The fag hag, Wendy (beautiful Michelle Trachtenberg), is angry at Neil. He's taken up tricking again. She's angry, she's vulnerable, she tells him his cock is not a candy cane, and the audience laughs. Act One, with its wonderful women, is funny.

Act Two is just fucking gross. Would you be surprised to learn that Brian wasn't really abducted by aliens at all, but rather by a man with a bushy mustache? Well, Brian is. Our problem is that where Act One showed us peppy scenes in flashback—Neil getting hustling lessons on how to hold his thumbs in his pockets just so, Neil popping his cock out of his pants to show Wendy some nifty bruises, Brian crying in the fetal position in a crawl space (okay, so little of what Brian does is "peppy")—Act Two is one long confrontation that's supposed to set us up for a dramatic surprise that has been telegraphed since Scene Two. One long stretch of filler goes a lot like this:

"Tell me what happened!"

"Are you sure you really want to know?"

"Yes, I really want to know!"

"I don't think you really want to know."

"Yes, tell me!"

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure!"

"I don't think you really want to know."

Since there can't really be any surprise with the outcome, the adaptation by Prince Gomolvilas (from the novel by Scott Heim) aims instead for absolutely disgusting. And as Neil narrates for Brian the exact sequence of just what he's blocked out, he's like NAMBLA's Miss April: Neil truly loved his man with the bushy mustache, and Neil truly felt honored. But he sure feels bad that Brian's so fucked up, and maybe he's got some damage himself.

Perhaps Gomolvilas felt that, in this case, he had to tell, not show. But the strings of narrative he puts into Neil's mouth (among other things) are far more obscene than showing it would actually have been. The sinister and wonderful Rick Kopps, who plays the violent trick, the violent dad and the other violent trick, could easily have come back for a turn as the bushy mustache and, with just a sloppy kiss for the two boys (and then a sloppy kiss between them), could have foretold everything that would come in a far more frightening and saddening way than Neil's frankly prurient recital—and without having to become NAMBLA Forum to provide its climax. It's a truism in horror movies that the monster that remains unseen is always scarier than the one that's charging through the door, but here we must hear every moment of each abuse that's been perpetrated on the boys, and the ante has already been upped so high—what with the anal rapes and the cock-flopping—that Gomolvilas has to strive mightily to shock us.

Dear NAMBLA Forum:

I always wanted a boy's arm in my ass up to his elbow, but I never thought it would happen to me!

Mysterious Skin at Rude Guerrilla Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Through July 1. $10-$18.

 
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