No theater company in the Rocky Mountain region or far West has dared stage Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson's play, The Lying Kind, before now. A piece written by one of the cornerstone playwrights of the in-yer-face theater movement begun by Gen-Xers in 1990s England, the show isn't treacly Christmas drama. No ghosts or morals of Christmases past appear. Instead, the real, hard present turns so tragically over-the-top that stunned audiences laugh early and stay laughing, according to director Murray Ross.
According to the self-indulgent Web site inyerface-theatre.com, the genre "shocks audiences by the extremism of its language and images; unsettles them by its emotional frankness and disturbs them by its acute questioning of moral norms." (Colorado Springs audiences got a taste of in-yer-face with Theatre 'd Art's October 2007 production of Shopping and F*cking.)
The Lying Kind opens as two constables "bobbies" arrive at the home of an elderly couple (he with a bad heart, she with dementia) with the sad news that the couple's daughter has been killed in a Christmas Eve car accident. In their desire to soften the blow, the constables make a mess of the telling. Other characters, including a vicar in fishnets and a brutal pursuer of pedophiles, show up to confuse the situation further.
"This is not a moral play," says Ross. "The main characters get themselves into deeper and deeper kimchi."
Ross won't spoil the play by releasing much information won't even quote a few funny lines but does pronounce The Lying Kind a comedy of errors in the tradition of Monty Python and Laurel and Hardy. The errors in this drama, he adds, are "massive." He pauses to laugh, then adds, "Gigantic errors. Galactic errors."
The farcical characters come to life through an ensemble cast of seven, gleaned primarily from local players, but featuring guest artists from New York (Geddeth Smith, who plays the old man, Balthasar) and Denver (Billie McBride, who plays Garson, Balthasar's wife). Michael Kane and Dylan Mosley star as the inept bobbies, while Alysabeth Clements, T. David Rutherford and Emily White round out the players. Ross says they work symbiotically:"All of them need each other to be good."
Neilson's play premiered during the 2002 holiday season at the Royal Court, a London theater famous for staging adventurous drama. Members of the Theatreworks board, including Ross, attended the performance on a trip to England, and they thought it was the funniest thing they had ever seen. They promptly decided that the show should premiere in the American West through Theatreworks. With the economy in tatters, Ross says, this felt like the year to offer liberation from reality in a new way.
"It must be said," Ross declares, "at Christmas, every American theater faces the same question: What the hell are we going to do? We've done A Christmas Carol 25 times in as many versions. We yearn for something different. It's time to laugh. The Lying Kind is a very merry, very black little comedy."