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`Pitchfork Disney' leaves Houston audiences unscathed
by Nikki Nime
English author and playwright Philip Ridley has written numerous children's books, but despite its juvenile title, The Pitchfork Disney is not one of them. When asked about his play, Ridley said, "It doesn't so much have its finger on the pulse, as a razor blade. Prepare to bleed."

The Pitchfork Disney dramatizes the lives of Presley and Haley Stray, 28-year-old twins struggling to remain children. They seldom venture outside their house except to purchase the chocolate and sleeping pills on which they subsist. They speak in ritualistic dialogue and fondly remember the days when Mummy and Daddy were alive.

The twins encounter their terror of the outside world when they open the door to Cosmo Disney, an arrogant, homophobic nightclub entertainer with a grotesquely disfigured assistant, Pitchfork Cavalier. For most of the play, Cosmo and the effeminate Presley converse in witty dialogue while Haley lies asleep on the couch, sucking on a pacifier.

The first act opens with the neurotic twins bickering over chocolate and goes nowhere. The play lacks a central plot or a message. The audience views the lives and minds of the twins through the peephole of conversation, with dialogue chock-full of British humor witty enough to make the audience roar. At the same time, the play has a strong element of darkness.

The next act makes an abrupt shift. Though the first act is marked by witty dialogue, the second weakly attempts to frighten the audience, shifting the focus away from the characters. Although the sudden diatribes and startling events add an element of surprise to the play, they take away from The Pitchfork Disney 's quintessential simplicity.

The actors breathed life into a rather static play. James Parsons, as Presley, drew the audience into his character's mind. His posture and voice clearly showed the audience that not all was well with his character. Parsons created a character who was both eccentric and believable, while adding a touch of tragedy. His poignant portrayal was the highlight of the play.

As Haley, Shannon Emerick hid in Parson's shadow. Emerick's character seemed a bit artificial -- though obviously absorbed in her performance Emerick -- but at the same time not very convincing. Her performance illustrated her character's struggle with fear, but grated at times, her speech wavering from spastic to monotonous. Emerick was tolerable only in small doses, which is why it was helpful that she slept through most of the second act.

Alex Kilgore's very convincing performance of the unlikable Cosmo contrasted with that of Parsons. While Parsons was working with an extremely eccentric protagonist, Kilgore had a cookie-cutter antagonist on his hands. Kilgore perfectly portrayed Cosmo's villainous qualities, but added a realistic dimension by occasionally revealing a glimpse of his humanity.

Wearing a leather bondage mask, Clay Allison portrayed the silent ogre Pitchfork Cavalier. With no lines and a very late entrance into the play, Allison's character seemed more of a loveable misfit than a terrifying monster.

Experienced director Rob Bundy deftly brought the cast together on stage. The blocking and timing was well-crafted and synchronized. Though there were a few subtle blunders, the performance as a whole was well-done.

The play's simple but effective lighting helped intensify the play, adding to the eerie mood of the second act. The lights discreetly dimmed to leave a spotlight on Presley or to cast a red shadow on Cosmo's face as the tension mounted.

Stages Repertory's intimate theater also added to the viewing experience, with a seating area so small that everyone in the audience was close enough to see the characters' breaths. The set was a house pried open to reveal a sparsely furnished interior, furnished with oversized furniture, adding to the childlike feel of the play.

The play was entertaining, but I somehow was left feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps it was because of all the hype that I heard about it being a such a terrifying show. It was dark but not disturbing, most of it merely morbid. Though not what I had expected, the performances in The Pitchfork Disney were enjoyable enough to hold my attention.

This item appeared in the Arts & Entertainment section of the October 16, 1998 issue.

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