I walked up the stairs to Out of Line Theatre’s production of Le Mort in utter terror. Wouldn’t you be completely terrified if the website for a play showcased a naked woman’s crotch drenched in soup? The disclaimer in the program did nothing to calm my nerves: “We ask that audiences leave promptly after the showing of Le Mort [ . . . ] we’ll have a lot of cleaning to do.” Cleaning of what? Soup? Blood? Shredded body parts? Maybe I should have worn a raincoat.
The production, based on Georges Bataille’s erotic novel Le Mort opens with the entrance of the narrator, Death (Ian Mozdzen). He sits in a curtain-draped corner, wearing a skull mask, and reads excerpts of Bataille’s novel to his listeners. Thus, the production becomes something like a storytelling session with plenty of audience interaction. Soon, Death introduces Marie (Mia van Leeuwen). Marie’s lover, Edward, dies at the beginning of the novel, and on his deathbed, Edward asks Marie to take off her clothes. Despite much tearing of clothing, and the violent shaking of her naked breasts, Marie cannot fully undress before Edward dies. The rest of the story follows Marie in her attempt to come to terms with her nakedness and sexuality during a drunken rampage in a nearby bar.
While the production could easily leap from one uncomfortable moment to another, Mozdzen and van Leeuwen find the comedy in the story. They use sound to perfection in their small space, and they have hauntingly musical voices, like something out of an old radio mystery. Van Leeuwen is especially intriguing, with excellent control of her body and a strong ability to improvise. If not for her, I probably would have dismissed this production as overly vulgar with gratuitous nudity and unnecessary shock values (Marie wrestles a dwarf, then pees, vomits and defecates on his head — with water, soup, and chocolate sauce). However, because she laughs at herself, interacts with the audience, sings, screams and takes off all her clothes, I give her a big pat on the back. She has more guts than I have. And even if I cannot relate to her character’s need to show off her “snatch,” I can understand the feelings of uncertainty and desperation at the loss of love.
Of course, I wouldn’t recommend a show like this for the faint of heart. In fact, I would even recommend a solo outing to see Out of Line’s future productions. That’s what I did, and I had a quite enjoyable time because I didn’t feel the need to act shocked or embarrassed for the sake of other people. Sure, the play was outrageous. I saw a lot of naked body parts. I got to smell soup mixed with chocolate sauce mixed with a sweet, flowery perfume. Yet, in the end, I felt liberated and quite proud of myself for sticking it out. So let’s all open our minds, shall we? Bras off, bottoms up.