KRiEp - a Grusical in Seven Deadly Scenes

Theatre 80
80 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003
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"KRIeP Then and Now" by Nestor Oginar

As the lights went out on the last matinee performance of “Kriep”, a musical composed and directed by Sam Belich, the audience at Teat her 80 on St. Mark Street responded with cheers and a standing ovation. It was a fitting ending to a show that is but one of the 187 participants in the 16th Annual New York City Fringe Festival. One can only regret not being able to see the performances of all the companies in this rich and diverse festival, but judged by the overall quality of the musical which is the subject of this review one can feel satisfaction that the Fringe’s universal auditorium offers many opportunities to lesser known enthusiasts of the world of entertainment who, for a fleeting moment, take center stage. In “Kriep”, Mr. Belich and his lyrical collaborator John Hammel attempt to engage us through, acting, song and dance, for two and a half hours into a “willing suspension of belief” during which we examine the darker shades of our individual and collective human nature, and come out into the daylight of the street looking inwardly, but also over our shoulder for the Kriep lurking and hovering nearby. The sociopathic , pathological nature of the main character, embodied in the three partite nature of his person: Jake, (an old man), Jerry (a Young man) and Jak (a teen) is revealed through the complex narrative structure of a story line which demands a keen , engaged and awakened audience. The simultaneous actions and events which shape and define the main character’s psychological nature provide a running commentary on the mystery of the human animal. As we travel from the present day Greenwich Village, police precinct # 6 back thirty years into Jak’s past, we witness a change of events horrific and bizarre, which contribute towards the development of his serial killer personality. In that chronological line of examination there are distant echoes of Freudian methods, Oedipal complexes, Edgar Allan Po’s psychological probing and West Side Story’s thematic variations which leave us wondering if Mr. Belich intended to play a game of both hide and seek and Jekyll and Hyde with his audience. The young ensemble of actors and dancers each executed their dramatic dancing and musical roles competently, despite the fact that this musical put a great demand on each one of them. There were times during which the tone and style were strained because of the overflow of enthusiasm and ambition on the part of Mr. Belich and Mr. Hammel, but Kendra Slack’s choreography managed, in most cases, to strike a fitting balance and allow the action to flow smoothly. The vocal renditions by the cast were competent and most of the time met the complex musical demands of some of the songs. Jessica Bracy’s balletic performances were moving and reminiscent of the dying scene in Swan Lake and were beautifully complemented by those of Ariel Hoffman’s. I found Mr. Belich’s conducting of the pre-recorded musical accompaniment a refreshing novelty as a way of direct communication between the conductor and the ensemble. The rich plethora of mood was enhanced by the wonderful lighting design by Michael Megliolo. The production’s claim that it attempts to probe through “song , dance and drama, the fascination and intransient ways in which our society exploits serial killers and their victims” and that the aim of this musical is not only to entertain us but make us ponder the latent malaise which underlines our human, organic nature, rings through. As I mingled with the audience which lingered outside of the theater after the performance, I had an uncanny feeling of how indistinguishable the life between the theater and the street is. I felt a thin line between fiction and the reality. Only a couple of hours prior to that afternoon’s performance of “Kriep” just a few blocks away at the Empire State Building, one aspect of Jack’s nature embodied in another man had acted out its murderous impulse. The fatal shooting by which a disgruntled employee had taken the life of an innocent human being and the manifold collateral damage of the people passing by were a poignant reminder that the theme in Mr. Belich’s “Kriep” is both perennial and contemporary and that his message had found a responsive audience

Great young cast for a "grusical"

So you got time for one play – but can’t decide on a musical, a horror show, or thoughtful reflection on today’s culture. KRIEP does it all in two hours. Book and music by John Hammel and Sam Belich (who also directed), these gentlemen serve up a twisted treat that’s overflowing with professional performances, fascinating score, and gripping horror. Moving from present day into the past, we bare witness to Jake Kriep’s bizarre and psychotic life. Confronted with his insanity, references to animal torture, and his downward spiral as a serial murderer, we watch the perverse trail of clues that Detective Louis Caccia obsessively tracks. We can’t escape society’s bizarre fascination with evil, with murder and the demented villains who walk in our midst. The cast and crew take us not only into the mind of the sick murderer, but also into the mind of those who pursue him. And those who protected him. Joseph Rodriguez and Melissa Gonzalez are splendid as detective and pathologist, fostering a sexual attraction and romance all while trying to solve the mystery of the serial killer. Their on-stage banter seems very real, and even when they sit together, there is an engaging truthfulness in their conversation or argumentation. The play is moving. And when they are not sitting, can they ever sing. Rodriguez’ tonality and Gonzales’ dynamics are outstanding. Despite its horrific nature, this production delivers the rich voices of talent, and a richness of characters. The musical compositions are well written and well-conceived, at times reminiscent of Hitchcock’s rhythmic cacophony, swept away moments later with flowing ballads, slices of operatic-like recitative, a Baptist spiritual, and a neck-shivering backdrop -- unsettling yet ingenious imagery, cross-dressing A Chorus Line with demons from A Clockwork Orange. (While Belich sat in the front row, coordinating the instrumentation tracks -- a technique used to help singers if the music track faults and slips -- he needs to tone down his arm-waving, which became a distraction to the audience at times.) But still, the numbers are finely executed. Kendra Slack’s choreography was generally smart and organized, implying swirling images of the characters’ insanity, motions of murder and horror lurking within. Tiger Brown and Jessica Bracy are fantastic in their presentations of fire and pathetic victimization -- talented young women and another casting coup by the producers. The only times that Slack could have demanded more practice were in the violent chair-throwing scenes. The steps were there from the male leads, but the confidence was not. In West Side Story we saw fighting that nevertheless flowed. In KRIEP, while the choreography was intensely clever, the “Jakes” sometimes seemed unsure of their skill, lacking confidence in their motions. This was unfortunate, as these male lead were remarkably cast and talented: John Hollingsworth was demonically brilliant, his sarcastic irony was nerve-wracking in its perversion. Warren Douglas’ stellar athleticism was effortless and he ingeniously captured the young Jake’s teenage sourness with aplomb and realism; Christopher Tefft had less “Jake-time” as he assumed a couple of other roles, but where he shines most was belting out his songs with ease and musicality. In fact, the ensemble was loaded with singing talent, beautiful voices throughout, moving the macabre weirdness into aria-like formality. Maternally fostering Jake’s psychotic roots was Momma K, a southern belle wannabe, as obsessed with her son’s protection as she is her fabricated world. Jacqueline Chambers is mesmerizing in her role, hiding the evil with icy crocodile tears, sharing her son’s icy paranoia, and feigning her southern roots as she protects her son in loony paranoia. And like Gonzales, Chambers sings like a diva. This is a professional young cast, and amazing ensemble, whose skill and training blanket the stage in talent. A nit about the final scenes. As the epilogue nears, the several “Jakes” rhetorically question the audience, gazing toward the seats, encouraging us to ponder if bedlam lies in the dark, waiting for one of us to ignite at any time. This was unnecessary didacticism. We already got it. Belich and Hammel are talented and creative enough to allow the characters’ interplay, the story itself, to ask these questions, pulling the audience into the horror by way of its narrative. Nevertheless, this did not excessively mar an excellent musical, err.. “grusical.” KRIEP is plenty creepy and worthy of any play-goers time. At 80 St. Marks in the East Village, you’re in for a deadly treat. F. Dixon