Perhaps more than any other show at this Fringe, 52:15 challenges its audience to reconsider one of its core beliefs. The 100th Monkey Theatre Ensemble’s mix of traditional, surreal, and psychical performance is impressive, but the show falls miles short of justifying an empathetic take on a pedophile.
52:15 opens with a reporter at the scene of a child abduction. Police found a 52-year-old public school teacher in a remote cabin with one of his 15-year-old students. The reporter clearly states that this is a crime scene, as he makes note of a stuffed animal and KY personal lubricant.
Having read the synopsis ahead of time, I was relieved that they chose to acknowledge the protagonist’s actions as a crime right off the bat instead of making him out to be a martyr for love, but things got messier from there.
The rest of the show dances around the timeline as we learn more about Mr. C’s abuse of Sarah and its fallout. Mr. C is a well-off white man with a midlife crisis, pining for the red hot rod he dreamt of as a kid and dreading his shrewish wife. He is played most of the time by Mark Hutchinson, in a red clown nose, plaid blazer, and a worn-out hat that is somewhere between Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Waiting for Godot. Endearing in a pathetic way. When he feels more like his younger self, he is portrayed instead by the younger Patrick Newhart. And when he is portrayed in dance, Kobi Davis steps in. Sarah is likewise mostly played by Mukta Phatak, but is replaced in some dance sequences by Zoe Davidson.
closes July 29, 2018
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Mrs. C (Anjalee Deshpande-Hutchinson) gets a chilling monologue about the suffering Mr. C has brought on his family. It’s a stirring indictment, until its surprising conclusion. His son (Gabe Calleja) gives him the “he’s such a nice guy” defense we are trying to move past in the era of #MeToo.
52:15’s synopsis on the front of the program claims it’s the 15-year-old student’s story. We get only two scenes from her perspective. The first is when students tease her for kissing their teacher. But we get plenty of gorgeous if ineffective scenes with Mr. C as he grapples with his immoral temptation. The dances are beautiful and disgusting all at once, such as when Mr. C undresses the moaning Sarah, only to reveal the pink stuffed animal from before. Her moans turn to schoolgirl laughter, which Mr. C recoils at.
In addition to Mr. C’s son, Gabe Calleja plays a demented court jester who promises Mr. C to satisfy his darkest desires. The jester is obviously malevolent, as portrayed in fascinating surreal scenes, leading the ensemble in song or selling them to Mr. C as if we were at an Apple store.
This seeming recognition of Mr. C’s evil however gets blown away right towards the end when Mr. C shatters the fourth wall and reveals that the jester is just what the media makes of him; it’s not really what he’s like. Then Sarah delivers a speech more in line with Taming of the Shrew’s brainwashed Kate. She asks, “Isn’t falling in love always a kind of manipulation?”
No, Sarah, this is different and blatantly not OK. Are we really entertaining the idea that this pedophile had any justification, just because his victim escaped another abuser on her way to him and he wishes he was young again?
I would recommend this show to anyone who would say yes to that. In the meantime, I look forward to seeing another exhibition of the 100th Monkey Theatre Ensemble’s abundant talent in a more worthy play.
52:15. Directed by Anjalee Deshpande-Hutchinson. Associate director Wendy Schibener. Performed by Gabe Calleja, Zoe Davidson, Kobi Davis, Anjalee Deshpande Hutchinson. Mark Hutchinson. Patrick Newhart. Mukta Phatak. Devised along with Tina Cody, Victoria Moyer, Samantha Norton, Terry LaCasse, Casey Venema, Greg Wolf, Alex Gherardi. Produced by the 100th Monkey Theatre Ensemble. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.