Stage West’s Deer a brilliant, bizarre, inspired ride

Some playwrights will brazenly drag you down the rabbit hole (Albee, Beckett, Shepard) while others (Williams, Pinter, Mamet) will be more stealthy. After seeing Deer I’m not sure where to place the demented, playful, inspired Aaron Mark on the continuum. When we first meet Ken and Cynthia they are en route to an idyllic cabin in the woods. Ken (John S. Davies) is yammering while Cynthia rolls her eyes. No response is necessary. They mistakenly hit a deer and while Cynthia wants to resuscitate, Ken (naturally) wants to put it out of its misery. She insists they take it to the cabin with them, and nurse it back to health. The outcome of this dubious mission (and what the deer will become for each of them) is the premise of Deer.

I’m often dazzled by the simple impetus that propels many successful plays. A teenage boy blinds horses. Why? A middle-aged couple invites a younger couple over for nightcap. Why? The wife of narcissistic buffoon adopts a dead, or nearly dead deer carcass. Why? When Cynthia (Lisa Fairchild) places the deer on the sofa and wraps it in a blanket, warms up a bottle for it, talks to it incessantly, we gradually move from the inexplicable to the inescapable. I have no desire to write a critique laden with spoilers, but I don’t know if I can avoid it. Like Nietzsche’s notorious reference to the abyss, the deer begins to speak back. Mark is careful here (it seems to me) to leave the question of Cynthia’s pathology to us. Is the deer really talking? And why does it assume Ken’s voice when conversing with Cynthia? Why Cynthia’s when talking to Ken?

It would be unfair and reductive to say “The Deer” is a metaphor for Ken and Cynthia’s famished, somewhat toxic marriage. Mark takes us down a number of bizarre and grotesque paths, finding humor in possibilities that are alarming and marvelously distasteful. Strangely enough, the more we play along with this creepy joyride, the more resonant and valid it feels. We laugh at Cynthia and Ken, acting out primal sacraments and petty retributions, and we feel the sting of loss as one watches while the other thrashes through lonely black waters. It feels like a jeremiad masquerading as shtick. Rage wrapped in velvety milk-chocolate. The gift of theatre as literature, of the complexity and ridiculousness of our humanity realized as spectacle, is permission to articulate through spontaneity and impulse. Deer channels sinister wisdom, the kind of frustration that fuels giddy, mind-bending humor.

Lisa Fairchild, John S. Davies, Garret Storms (director) et al deserve considerable recognition for navigating this harrowing, tumultuous descent. We wonder sometimes if audiences have any inkling of the moxie and reckless adventurousness it takes to step out on a stage and bear witness.

Stage West Theatre presents Aaron Mark’s Deer (A World Premier) playing March 9th-April 9th, 2017. 821 West Vickery Blvd, Ft. Worth, Texas 76104. (817) 784-9378.

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