Fearful Symmetries

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22 March, 2010

We Are All Lucifer: Legion @ the Viaduct Theatre, 22 March 2010

And he asked him, "What is thy name?" And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion: for we are many." (Mark 5:9)



This bit of scripture provides the name of William Peter Blatty's sequel to The Exorcist which has been made into a play by the folks at WildClaw Theatre in Chicago. The Dulcinea and I attended a performance yesterday along with my brother and friend Andrew at the Viaduct Theatre. I've never read the book and have selective memories of The Exorcist III, the film based on Legion, and so it was fun going in not knowing the entire plot and the ending. My brother recently started re-reading the book in anticipation of the play but hadn't finished it by show time.

The story revolves around Lieutenant Kinderman, pictured above, who is investigating a series of murders the victims of which are a boy who had been crucified, a priest decapitated in the confessional booth, and a second priest, Father Dyer, who was a friend of Kinderman's that was desanguinated. These people all bore the distinct markings that another murderer had carved into his victims some 12 years previously. Known as the Gemini Killer, he had been killed in a shootout with police. Kinderman's investigation leads him to the psychiatric ward of a local hospital and a mysterious patient whose identity remains unknown.

WildClaw recruited a large ensemble cast for the production to populate the psych ward, act as fellow police officers, and so on. But Legion is all about Lieutenant Kinderman. Not only is he the lead investigator, but his philosophical and religious ruminations dominate the first half of the play and provide a thematic foundation for the entire story. He reflects on the nature of evil with his friends and co-workers but also with witnesses who must feel like they're being given a philosophical interrogation instead of questioned for what they saw and when. My brother told me that Kinderman's metaphysical banter is pervasive in the book and that the play captured them quite well.

During the intermission, I was out having a smoke with my brother and we were joined by someone involved with the production who told us that the first half was all setup – the second half is when all the crazy shit happens. And indeed it was.

Kinderman discovers the identity of the enigmatic mental patient which ties this story into the original Exorcist via Father Damien Karras, he who killed himself by jumping out the window after finding himself possessed by the demon. Plus there are a couple great scenes which worked their horror magic on me. In one, a nurse working the night shift in the psych ward is brutally murdered. Her scream, and the use of light and shadow really scared the bejezzus out of me. In addition, Kinderman's family is threatened in another scene and, although not scary per se, it was incredibly creepy and tense. Kudos to the light and sound folks who plied their respective trades to great effect here. The use of light and shade as well as music that set a mood but didn't overpower what was happening onstage all helped create an incredibly eerie mood throughout.

Fidelity to the source material and technical wizardry aside, the play rises or falls on the performance of Len Bajenski as Kinderman and yesterday it was a mixed bag. On the bright side, Bajenski looks the part. He is older than most of his fellow actors here, including his fellow police officers. This, along with costumes, makes for a nice contrast and enhances his world-weary countenance. Watching him contemplate existence and the place of evil within it doesn't feel contrived, it only sounds like it. And that's my gripe with his performance – his voice. Kinderman is Jewish and his way of talking here sounded hackneyed in a way that's difficult to describe. It sounded more Seinfeld cliché than natural too often for my taste. In Bajenski's defense, my brother pointed out that it's hard not to compare him to the late great George C. Scott who played Kinderman in The Exorcist III no matter how unfair that may be. Still, there was just something in his voice's cadence which didn't work for me. It didn't make his performance unwatchable by any means, but it wasn't as strong as it could have been.

Regardless, Legion was a lot of fun and I suggest horror fans get thee to the Viaduct before the show ends next month on the 18th.
|| Palmer, 1:08 PM

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