*****************Jerk, adapted from Dennis Cooper's 1993 novella of the same name, is a puppet theater piece, but I wouldn't advise bringing the kids. Presented at P.S. 122 as part of both Under the Radar and the venue's COIL Festival, the show is one of the most disturbing, yet riveting theatrical productions I've seen in years.
The solo performance stars Jonathan Capdevielle as David Brooks, one of the teenage accomplices to real-life serial killer Dean Corll, who in the mid-1970s raped, mutilated, and murdered more than 20 boys and young men in Houston, Texas. The play begins with David in prison, staging a puppet show for a class of psychology students which reenacts his involvement in the crimes. Capdevielle's David speaks in a halting, nervous-sounding voice which would be charming if the details he related weren't so grisly.
Once he takes on the voices of Dean, fellow accomplice Wayne, and the dead or dying boys in his puppet show, however, his entire demeanor changes. Director Gisele Vienne has the performer draw out certain moments -- including scenes of both sex and death -- that are likely to make many in the audience uncomfortable. (Indeed, more than one person walked out at the performance I attended.) The performer's self-generated sound effects are extremely evocative and conjure up images far more graphic than the actions performed by the innocent-looking puppets.
The show follows the same structure as Cooper's book and incorporates large chunks of its text (with the author himself serving as this production's dramaturg). This includes the rather unusual choice to break the action by bringing up the house lights and having the audience read short pieces supposedly written by David. However, what makes the production so engrossing is Capdevielle's fully-committed and ultimately harrowing performance. The final segment of the play is a tour-de-force that dispenses with the puppets as Capdevielle-as-David uses superb ventriloquist skills to bring the story to its chilling denouement.
-- Dan Bacalzo