by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

“I want to be a part of something. I wanted to be a part of you. To be inside you. Forever.”

Connecting with Taste has been unpredictable, deep and extraordinary.  Experiencing both the lead actors and their understudies, even more intriguing.

Now that the run has moved past the glamour of the disquieting gore and audiences have had a chance to, well, digest this piece, what is first worth noting, is how the show has remarkably held up against the cast member changes in this final part of the run.

Ovation Award recommended, Taste, a new play by Benjamin Brand, directed by Stuart Gordon, starring actors Donal Thoms-Capello (Terry), a company member of Sacred Fools, and actor Chris L. McKenna (Vic), serves up more than a few juicy sweet points which no one should ignore.

A lot has already been said. It is a thoughtful, stunning play that deals with loneliness, the human condition, friendship and cannibalism.  It is sick. It is tragic. It is poignant. It is beautiful. It is even hysterical; all words and descriptions that are a tribute to what is a masterfully written fiction, taken straight from the headlines.

I never would have thought I’d be taken in as much as I have.  Horror, gore, porn, it’s just not my thing.  But Taste is so completely intimate and reaches far beyond the expected. The “pull” is intoxicating.

Based on a shocking true story, two men meet online and make a disturbing arrangement: one will kill, cook and eat the other.  Taste imagines their one and only meeting, in real time. Yeah, you got it — tough stuff!

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Donal Thoms-Capello (L) and Chris McKenna (R)

It can be a near deadly experiment giving up trust during a short run play, as complex and which has gained as much notoriety as Taste, to an understudy.  Although not exactly outlanders, seasoned actors Pete Caslavka and Yuri Lowenthal, both nevertheless, have a lot to live up to.  Taste is as unusual and hard-core a script as one could be handed.  There is intense work to be done with the character development and choices (so many) and then to keep pace and establish a strong emotional reciprocity with the main leads who already have dynamic momentum, which in the case of Taste, really is unique.   There is always a tremendous amount of room for flat-out failure.  But did it work?  Yes.  And in very interesting ways.

Bringing in the understudies one at a time, naturally created a new set of variants, layers and levels.  But both Capello and McKenna found their way exquisitely through the challenges allowing Caslavka and Lowenthal to rise up to them.

First look: Chris McKenna playing against understudy, Pete Caslavka.  What initially seemed a potential disappointment, without Cappello, turned into a very lively, steady-paced emotional roller coaster; Caslavka playing underneath the character at times, but always on point with a weirdly, first-dinner-date-at-home excitement, initially.  McKenna was all-out raw, awkward emotion putting down a gutsy, balls-to-the-walls performance, like nothing that could be imagined, vulnerable, open, trusting, willing. He was absolutely “large” and breathtaking.  Neither actor pulled any punches in this show. The intensity was high and the finale left the audience in a state of awe.

Second round: Donal Thoms-Cappello playing against understudy, Yuri Lowenthal. Lowenthal brought a different level altogether.  There was more comedy.  There was also a lot more stillness and overall clarity with the script by both actors.  Lowenthal delivers a much more simple-minded Vic, as opposed to McKenna’s uncomfortable but smart characterization.  And his talent for making audiences laugh even at the most horrendous of moments is a relief.  Cappello, a naturally gifted actor with an enormous yet quiet emotional register, was downright delicious. Flamboyantly gay, calculating and passive-aggressive, his character and behavior is as detailed and precise as his learned talent for carving flesh which he demonstrates during the evening, showing Vic how he will eventually cut and cook him.  The angry moments were physically violent and passionately manipulative with Capello;  in the pauses a full spectrum of emotions outwardly display across his face. He maintains a fierce control over the events of the evening.

It is a fight to the end with empathetic interludes revealing the dark reality of both men’s isolation.  Ultimately, this performance, although not as explosive as that of McKenna and Caslavka, embodied the inner core of the story.

With both leading men, Cappello and McKenna, back in play, together, for most of the remaining shows, Taste is sure to be unstoppable.

There is nothing superficial about this work.  It is profoundly painful to watch these men struggle for connection, and brutal in the ways they do. Yet there is a very real catharsis that takes place in this play.  Taste is so wonderfully balanced for the ride that it it. What should be impossible — an unbelievably horrific, disturbing, love story boils down to a gorgeous human experience.

Taste was expected to close on May 17 but has now been extended for two more weeks until May 31.

Presented by Sacred Fools Theatre Company in association with The Schramm Group LLC & Red Hen Productions

Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Benjamin Brand
Produced by: Ben Rock, Jenelle Riley, Dean Schramm, Adam Goldworm & Stuart Gordon
Special Effects:Tony Doubline, Gabe Bartalos, Matthew Barney
Cast: Donal Thoms-Cappello & Chris L. McKenna
Understudies: Yuri Lowenthal & Pete Caslavka

Due to strong sexual content and imagery, no one under the age of 18 will be admitted to this show.

Photo (above) by Jessica Sherman Photography: Chris McKenna and Donal Thoms-Capello in Taste

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