It’s the reaction that comes involuntarily and naturally. A shudder, the closing of eyelids so tight little wrinkles form around the eyes, maybe the lips retracting back inside the mouth. It’s pure defence, and everyone knows it. It’s the knee-jerk feeling that springs up at times like when you see the deformed cannibals in The Hills Have Eyes feasting on eyes and ears.
Back in 2003, the media was awash with headlines following the trial of Armin Meiwes, also known as the Rotenburg Cannibal. Meiwes posted a Craigslist ad “looking for a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed,” and found a willing victim in Bernd Jürgen Brandes. Without getting into the gnarly details of the death, Meiwes kept the body for 10 months and regularly ate from it. The duo recorded their actions, but the two-hour video tape was never made public.
It’s not exactly the type of story that we would immediately associate with being worthy of being translated into theatre. But that’s where the new production Big Plans comes in.
“My reaction to the real story was [that] I wanted to know more about who these people were,” said playwright Jeremy Taylor. “And how two human beings, just like you or me, could end up getting themselves to a place in their lives where this was something that they wanted to do.”
Reading books like American Psycho and Alive (which is about the plane that crashed in the Andes, where the survivors had no choice but to eat the dead), Taylor said the writing process was “disturbingly, maybe easier than you might think.”
Adding a level of rawness to the play is the fact that it is only being rehearsed one week prior to the first performance. Director Tanner Harvey explained this was born out of financial limitation at first.
“We figured we’d be better to keep our resources limited on that front and just focus on creating the task at hand and whatnot, and do a limited preview in hopes of generating some interest for the production in the future,” he said.
Rehearsals will go on every day the play is performed, which leaves room for a different kind of theatre creature as well.
“There’s something very appealing about the rawness that will come from that and the vulnerability that the actors will have and the incredible challenge for them that I think will really fit with this play,” explained Taylor. “[…] The hypothesis is that the result will be more alive and more magical than just your average piece of theatre.”
But the actors won’t be the only magicians in the room, as the play requires active participation from the audience, who act as the witnesses, or jury. This is helped by the setting itself.
“When you go there and sit down, you’re gonna be pretty much sitting on the stage,” described Harvey.
Albeit the play is not your usual fare in terms of subject matter, it does not capitalize on the sensationalistic aspect to a campy point, which is something Taylor and Harvey emphasize.
“It’s not gory, and that’s very important. We’re not a slasher play, we’re not trying to gross anybody out. The horror all happens in your imagination, really,” said Taylor. “With the way that everything happens on stage, it’s really largely happening in your imagination. And that’s been very important to us from the beginning.”
Ultimately, Harvey believes the message is worth passing on, regardless of the less-than-appealing elements in the delivery.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge this, there’s the potentiality for all of us to go over the edge in that way and when people do do that, it’s not because they’re monsters or evil, but because they’re confused, and that doesn’t make them any less capable of loving, or being gentle, or any of the things that we identify with being a good person,” he said. “I think there’s equal parts of both in all of us.”
Big Plans runs at the Freestanding Room (4324 Saint Laurent) Nov. 29 to Dec. 3. at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or (514) 418-1848 is required. For more details, go to bigplans.freestandingroom.com.