Assurbanipal Babilla's theater company, Purgatorio Ink, is nothing if not ambitious.
"Suddenly Something Recklessly Gay" -- the work with which this New York-based company is making its Baltimore debut at the Theatre Project -- combines elements of Greek tragedy, domestic drama and the circus to examine parental tyranny.
The second installment of a proposed tetralogy called "Babylonian Babies," about the nature of power, the play has roughly 100 subtitles, which take up 2 1/2 pages in the program. (A couple of examples that can be printed in a family newspaper are: "Apocalypse WOW!" and "An Inquest into the Post History of an Abandoned Future.")
Just about the only thing that isn't ambitious about this latest work by Purgatorio Ink is its length (about 80 minutes).
Babilla, an exiled Iranian actor, director and playwright, may be new to Baltimoreans, but his plays have attracted somewhat of a cult following in New York. One reason may be that, despite the seriousness of his themes, his work is peppered with bold -- at times ribald -- and self-deprecating humor.
At the beginning of "Suddenly Something," the broadcast voice of a narrator offers a prayer for the show's three performers as they attempt to rise "out of the obscure, pestilential swamps of the avant garde into a higher realm of glitz and glitter."
The narrator's voice returns periodically throughout the piece, relating the story of a character named Bani (Babilla's nickname) as he grows up and attempts to make sense of the world, his place in it and his relationship to God. Although the tale is told in the soothing tones of a bedtime story, it frequently features a frightened or angry Bani.
Bani does have occasional respites of happiness, and these contrast markedly with the existence of the family of circus performers on stage -- an imbecile brother (David Cote) and sex-starved sister (Leyla Ebtehadj). They live in almost constant terror of their abusive parents, both of whom are played by
As repulsive and despicable as the bearded Babilla appears as "Mamasita," he is more grotesque as bare-chested "Pappy," who, in quieter moments is given to scratching himself in unmentionable places. In one of his louder moments, he comes after his children brandishing a whip and a chair like a lion tamer.
Admittedly, the children are hardly innocent at this point; they're about to commit incest. At least in this installment of "Babylonian Babies," which the author describes as a loose allegory of the Iranian revolution, everyone seems to be both victim and villain -- including the deity to which the family prays for salvation in the Second Coming.
Clearly, Babilla holds nothing sacred, which was certainly one reason he was forced to flee his native Iran. "Suddenly Something" includes scenes of incest, patricide and blasphemy, well as doses of profanity and nudity. But while Babilla seems to thumb his nose at almost everything, he ends his work with a suggestion of hope. Although some theatergoers will find his style less than appealing, his challenging and irreverent outlook ultimately suggests a form of bleak redemption.
"Suddenly Something Recklessly Gay"
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, matinees 3 p.m. Sundays. Through March 20
Call: (410) 752-8558