Monday, November 10, 2008

Dennis Cooper's Jerk

Last night, I went to a performance of Dennis Cooper's Jerk: at the behest of visiting friend Shai Hulud .

Jerk tells the story of David Brooks (based on the true story), who is serving a life sentence in prison for his role in helping Dean Corll and Wayne Henley kill 27 Texas high school students.

As the play is set up, David uses puppets to re-enact his crimes. One puppet is Dean, another is Wayne, another is whichever victim he is describing, and he himself plays the puppet for himself. The puppets provide, at first, a humorous, safe way for the audience to sink into this depraved world of the serial killers. It's not long before it ceases to matter that they're puppets and the reality of their acts—torture, rape, killing—sinks in. It's a brilliant mechanism for making the difficult-to-watch behavior tolerable on the stage. (Although two people did walk out of the showing we were at.)

Cooper seems interested in getting inside the killers' heads—looking at why they want to kill. Dean is the lead agent in these killings, and he seems most motivated by understanding who his victims are—as though he has perverted his thinking and confusedly thinks that by getting literally inside them, he can get metaphorically inside them. Anyway, it involves puppets killing puppets, fisting dead puppets, making out with the lone actor on stage, etc. It's all a lot, and I'm not sure I've processed it yet.

The Seattle Times hated it :) I wouldn't want to try to summarize what this all means just hours after seeing it, but I'm pretty sure The Seattle Times' account is too literal, too simplistic, and misses the mark. Cooper isn't glamorizing the killings, or making them profound. Believe me. I don't know how you could sit through this play and get that the author was trying to tell you the killings were profound.

My pictures of the dead puppets didn't turn out, but maybe Shai Hulud will share his if they did.

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