Don’t let the name fool you.
As part of its tradition of bringing the best Grand Guignol (an almost forgotten genre of French theater horror) to the stage, the Molotov Theatre Group is presenting Anthony Neilson’s morbidly themed Normal.
The play follows the legal proceedings of the morose true story of Peter Kurten, the notorious Dusseldorf Ripper, a German serial killer (also nicknamed The Vampire of Düsseldorf), who committed a series of macabre murders and sexual assaults between February and November 1929 in the city of Düsseldorf.
The show’s title stems from the dark, humorous and brutal exploration of what truly defines “normal” when morality unravels into bloodlust and madness.
Normal was first brought to the attention of Molotov Theatre Group’s co-founder and Board President Alex Zavistovich four years ago by local theater director Colin Hovde, but he wasn’t quite sure it fit the company’s mold.
“We’re always looking for original scripts from that era and when I read it, I thought it was a great script and had some interesting Grand Guignol moments,” Zavistovich says. “But when people think of Molotov, they typically think of blood spilling and projecting in every direction. When I first looked at this, there’s not a drop of blood spilled in it but it’s a really fascinating story.”
The script was so intriguing that Zavistovich realized that bloodshed or not, this was a play that he needed to do—he just had to make sure the right people were involved.
“This subject matter was just spot-on. This real person who did some atrocious things. And the more I looked at it, the more I saw the many echoes of the Grand Guignol style—the distortion of time, the fourth wall ambiguity, the notion of hot and cold showers where we punctuate moments of real intense, suspense or horror with almost farcical breaks of reality,” he says. “I realized we needed a very keen eye and typically important, a really strong musical composition to make this work.”
Enter Jay D. Brock as director and composer Gregg Martin to write the original score. Together, the pair created a unified vision and sound that supported the vision of the theater and the spirit of the play.
“Jay and Gregg have worked together on numerous shows and both understood exactly the tone that would work for this production,” Zavistovich says. “I think this is one of the cooler things we’ve ever done here.”
Zavistovich plays Kurten, which will not be a surprise to anyone who has ever attended an MTG show before, as the actor admits he is often typecast into “playing the role of the lunatic.”
“The secret to playing a villain is the make them likable in some way. You don’t want to make him a mustache twirling caricature, because no one is horrified by a person like that,” he says. “Every now and then you get a glimpse of the person behind the horror, behind that weird, creepy mask, and it’s off-putting and frightening for the audience. You need to keep the audience on edge so they don’t know what they are getting themselves into until the show comes to its conclusion.”
“Brian is still a very young actor and he brings this solid, realistic base to what he’s doing and it’s pretty cool to watch. You watch him pop in and out of reality and he really commands the stage,” Zavistovich says. “Elizabeth is a very strong actor and must play this challenging realistic character of my wife working behind the scenes. It’s mesmerizing.”
The horror genre is hot right now, Zavistovich says, and he believes Normal will whet the appetite of anyone who is fan of the medium.
“You don’t have to look far to see how pertinent horror has become in entertainment—in movies, graphic novels, on TV—and people are seeking this out, especially the younger folks,” he says. “This is compelling to people and bringing in people who might not otherwise come to see theater. This is a clean break from reality and is something off-beat. That’s what many people want to see today and why I think this genre is so popular.”