Theater Review: Clive Barker’s Crazyface
Note to readers: For a brief moment I considered posting a previously written review of Clive Barker’s Crazyface as presented by the Constellation Theater in Washington, DC. However, after reading a three or four different reviews, I decided that these reviewers did not get it. What follows is my first ever theater review, born from the surprise and excitement of having witnessed a live performance of an early play written by one of the most influential artists of our time. End note to reader
Before boarding the plane to DC, I posted a tweet asking if there was any “darkness” to see in DC. Half rhetorical, half in hopes of a reply, I received not one response. During a brief walk to City Paws, a daycare for dogs, with our gracious host, I past a small, local theater displaying a poster for Clive Barker’s Crazyface. I stopped, studied the poster, looked anxiously for a date, this weekend, 3 and 8 pm, and just like that, the “darkness” presented itself.
So Saturday afternoon at 3pm I settled into the small, stadium style seating of the Source Theater on 14th street. With an audience of about 40 and the one man orchestra playing house music, I waited in anticipation. And suddenly, the lights went out, the volume rose, and I was transported into the mad, mad world of Clive Barker.
We open with 4 peasant women and a young man who can see angels, Tyl Eulenspiegel (although in my notes I had written Tull Oil and Spiegel) . After a brief comedic exchange, we learn that the three women are all married to Tyl’s brother, Lenny. Tyl is innocent, loony, and quite funny, albeit unaware, and before the scene ends, Tyl’s mother proclaims, “The world is his straight man.” And there it is, Clive Barker is in the house.
In the next scene, a man with shrewdly constructed wings flies around the stage illuminated by flashing lights and fog. Suddenly he leaps through the air and lands with a thud on his face. Enter the townsfolk, who come close to removing the broken arms and legs of the poor man in order they should save him from certain death. But if we remove his arms and legs, “how will he scratch himself,” one argues.
The simple townsfolk proceed to argue about this man’s ill fated suicide attempt from the top of the church steeple and whether they should bury him in the consecrated grounds of the church or at the crossroads.
Enter Tyl and his four women. Tyl is drawn to the man’s broken wings, and his mental instability is quickly revealed. Once the decision is made that the sinful suicide victim shall be buried at the crossroads, Tyl, the gravedigger, is the obvious choice for the work and soon they have all left to gather the tools.
Tyl is left behind, and finds that our victim has some words left to speak. They find a commonality in that the man wanted to fly with homemade wings while Tyl can see angels. “The world is all visions,” the dying man’s last words flow forth. Tyl takes the man’s wings and hides them.
While at the crossroads, Tyl witnesses the brutal slaying of a man, a man with a strange puzzle-box. There is a Brit, a Spaniard, a Frenchman and an Italian after this mysterious puzzle-box, and each, we find, has been summoned to receive this box. However, his brutal murder leaves him only a few moments of breath, and he hands the box over to Tyl.
Tyl returns to his mother and three sister in laws, but his mother is tired of the nomadic lifestyle, and decides she will stay in town. She disowns her “crazy” son; ” he is not worth the flesh he is written on,” she cries. Tyl, heartbroken and scared, takes his box and runs.
Next we meet Mingo and her three demons. Summoned from hell, the box’s slayed owner tells Mingo that he gave the box to Eulenspiegel. Mingo, who watches over evil, murderous Lenny Eulenspiegel, Tyl’s brother, summons him to seek out his brother and retrieve the box. Along with the box, he must bring a most precious pice of Tyl as well (Barker fans can guess what this is).
Crazyface presents all of the elements that live within Clive Barker’s works. We travel in multiple worlds, the innocent are demonized, the demons are glorified, and once normal humans will kill, maim, and slaughter out of a belief that this will allow them to see the horrific beauties that live beyond our natural realms.
Lenny is vicious, brutal, and demonic; but in the end we sympathize with his inner sadness at never being able to see the angels that his “crazy” innocent brother could see. Crazyface Tyl, who is actually (obviously) the most normal of all characters, is tormented by his vision, and is taught that his invisible friend is a sign of weakness and mental instability.
And the play sails along as part Monty Python, part Alexander Dumas, and all Clive Barker. The staging as presented by the Constellation Theatre Company is brilliant, the music hypnotic, and the acting is powerful. I had never seen a play of this type live, but I felt the brutality, agonized over the pain, and sensed the heat from below the grate of hell.
Within Crazyface are elements of the three most famous film mythologies that Clive Barker has presented us, and one in particular stood out at the end. Tyl revisits his blind, dying mother years later, and in a surreal visual achievement, her caretaker appears in white, veil hanging gracefully over her face, and introduces herself; “I am the beekeeper” she says.
The final scene is hilarious and tragic, and we end with a beautiful moment when Tyl flies with his treasured winds gracefully around the stage. Two and a half hours of pure elation. I never imagined I would have the opportunity to spend time inside a live performance of a Clive Barker penned tale, and for most of the time, it felt like Barker was in the theater (I kept imagining him appearing onstage or climbing out of hell from beneath it).
If you are ever presented with the chance to see a Barker play staged live, I urge you to go. It will be an experience like no other.