The Vagrancy's NORMAL is the brightest light in all of 2017's Fringe Festival. And do not try to fight me on it. This hour-long theatrical work rocks its audience with a brand of potent simplicity and flawless dynamism befitting canonical pieces of high culture from the likes of Samuel Beckett or Peter Shaffer. Better yet, NORMAL proceeded to cling to me in ways those bits of high school required reading could not.
Centering on the life of infamous German serial killer Peter Kurten, playwright Anthony Neilson and director David Mancini unleash a packed, albeit tightly composed, pathological universe. Some will recognize Kurten's name and story from Fritz Lang's masterpiece M, but this play stands out on its own terms (if you have not seen M, by the way, do so immediately). Dripping with contemporary commentary and writhing in haunting images, NORMAL subverts expectations at every turn through its deft manipulation of narrative conventions. It bills itself as poetic, but it is so much more. NORMAL is analytically bent, critically invested, and cinematically informed.
Actors Carolyn Deskin, Steve Madar, and Arthur Keng carried weight, delivering what would have been stand-out performances had they not blended together into unmistakable synchronicity. Perhaps the most unexpected testament to this ensemble's acting is found in the fact NORMAL contains one of the most effective and brutal simulations of violence I have ever seen produced for the stage. Snaps are in order for fight choreographer Jen Albert, for sure. It may have been hard to watch, but the treachery felt of a piece with the metaphorical capacity of the production.
NORMAL's excellence could not have been executed without seamless production design. The minimalist approach on all three fronts married together to offer the best possible canvas for all facets of the performance. A tip of the hat, therefore, goes to lighting designer Jenna Fletcher, sound designer Matt Richter, and scenic artist Hillary Bauman. Moreover, someone in The Vagrancy managed to secure a mannequin of such unusual quality that it makes the subhumanoid figures at your local Nordstrom Rack look like viable romantic prospects.
As I stated into a camera held by a rather enthusiastic man right after the actors' final bow, NORMAL is nothing short of grotesque, carnivalesque, and spectacular. Enter The Vagrancy's monstrous vision of interwar Germany to revel in its rich textures, tones, and terrors as soon as you can.
For more information and to purchase tickets to NORMAL, visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4428