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A CurtainUp Review
Massacre (Sing to Your Children)


Hey, who cares? We did this killing like a family, man. That’s what I’m trippin’ on. — Panama
Jojo Gonzalez
(Photo: Sandra Coudert)
"Remorse is memory awake" wrote Emily Dickinson back in 1863. Those words take on grisly new meaning in Jose Rivera’s new play at the Rattlestick Playwright’s Theater. Directed by Brian Mertes, it may well be the bloodiest new production on the New York boards this season.

Massacre takes place on a chilly fall evening in a small New Hampshire town, where seven friends have conspired to kill Joe, the town’s Mayor.
  • When their post-crime pow-wow is interrupted by a knock on the door and the supposedly-dead Joe knocks on the door and enters the conspirators soon learn that their victim can turn the tables on them, and light a match to their conscience

    Though its premise is absurd, Massacre’s opening scene is downright spooky. You watch 6 grotesquely-masked characters burst through a door one-by-one. Everybody is drenched in blood and holds their weapon of choice (meat cleavers, ice picks, knives, pitchforks, to be precise). No sooner do you take in this nightmarish appartion, that a young and sensuous woman enters through the same door, holding a machete. This visually over the top scene makes a strong impact and undoubtedly sets the steeliest nerves on edge. However, the rest of Act 1 doesn’t hold a candle to these first ten minutes. It regains surprising momentum at the top of Act 2, when the “dead” Joe (Anatol Yusef) arrives on the scene with mad panache.

    The play’s major problem is that there’s not a character sympathetic and interesting enoughc to latch on to. Even Joe, who makes a mighty intriguing ghost, is referred to by his collective murderers as a kind of “devil” or “Idi Amin” figure who as Mayormanipulated the town’s citizens. The seven friends—Panama (Jojo Gonzalez), Erik (Adrian Martinez), Hector (Brendan Averett), Lila (Sona Tatoyan), Eliseo (William Jackson Harper), Janis (Jolly Abraham), Vivy (Dana Eskelson) —are small-town New England folk who have decided to band together into a sort of guerilla army to off Joe and regain “a golden age” for themselves and their children. Unsurprisingly, their crime only ratchets up their sense of anxiety and creates dissent among them.

    Trying to figure out the psychological make-up of Rivera’s characters becomes an exercise in futility during this two-hour plus production. Janis puts her finger on it when she tries to describe Panama: “A person would have to travel through hundreds of miles of contradictions and swamps to get to the center of this man.” Her observation could well apply to the other characters, none of whom are satisfyingly portrayed. You only learn what their jobs are: Panama and Erik are auto mechanics, Vivy a school teacher, Hector (the one gay character) a cook, Lila a tarot-card reader, Eliseo a bartender, Janis a budding film maker. However, since they are all so preoccupied with the aftermath of Joe’s murder here, you never get a real sense of their workaday or private lives.

    Andromache Chalfant’s set design is the epitome of grimness. You see the interior of an abandoned slaughter house with a large door appearing at the top of a staircase. The only other things on stage are a large wash tub with a hose, a shower area, and huge meat hooks hanging from a cord running the length of the stage. Austin Smith’s lighting is flat throughout the first act, but after the intermssion gives a warm incandescent glow to Joe’s ghost. Erin Kennedy Lunsford’s make-up is bloody right, and Jeremy Chernick’s special effects earn kudos in the cadaver department.

    The ensemble’s acting is so-so with one standout. Anatol Yusef, playing Joe, is a stage-taker from the moment he enters. This British-born actor has a commanding and mellifluous voice and puts it to fine effect here. The authority he projects as he makes his entrance, apropriately dressed in a white outfit, is sustained throughout. As Joe’s ghost, he rends the veils of time, and rattles the skeletons in everybody’s closet. Too bad none of the other cast members match his presence and verve.

    Massacre is a deeply unsettling play., unfortunately e unsettling in the wrong way. If director Mertes didn't go too heavy on the gore, and too lightly on the meaning of human beings collectively killing their neighbor, this could send you home with much to think about-- instead of having a blood permeated nightmare.

    Massacre (Sing to Your Children)
    Written by Jose Rivera
    Directed by Brian Mertes
    Cast: Jojo Gonzalez (Panama), Adrian Martinez (Erik), Brendan Averett (Hector), Sona Tatoyan (Lila), William Jackson Harper (Eliseo), Jolly Abraham (Janis), Dana Eskelson (Vivy), Anatol Yusef ( Joe).
    Sets: Andromache Chalfant
    Props Designer: Andrew Diaz
    Special Effects: Jeremy Chernick
    Makeup Design: Erin Kennedy Lunsford
    Mask Design: Julian Crouch, Cait O’Connor
    Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
    Composer of “Hole in the Ground”: Saskia Lane
    Technical Director: Katie Takacs
    Scenery: The Ken Larson Co.
    Lighting: The Lighting Syndicate
    Graphic Design: Achilles Lavidis
    Production Stage Manager: Melissa Mae Gregus
    Rattlestick Playwrights Theater at 224 Waverly Place (off Seventh Avenue South, between Perry and West 11th Street. Tickets: $55. Phone 212/279-4200 or visit
    Opening 4/12/12; closing 5/12/12.
    Wednesday through Saturday @ 8pm; Sunday @ 3pm and Monday @ 8pm.
    Running time: 2 hours; 30 minutes with intermission.
    Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 4/07/12
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