TheatreSpace Review: Lisa del Rosso gets MASSACRE(d) by Jose Rivera & Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

If you take seven bloodied murderers, four male and three female, and put them in a room together right after they have plotted and killed the town “devil” – a man who was a murderer and worse himself – one would think this set-up would yield interesting results, at the very least.

Yet, at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater down in the Village, where Massacre (Sing to Your Children) by playwright Jose Rivera is playing, this is not the case.

Panama (Jojo Gonzalez), Erik (Adrian Martinez), Hector (Brendan Averett), Lila (Sona Tatoyan), Eliseo (William Jackson Harper), Janis (Jolly Abraham), and Vivy (Dana Eskelson) enter a room in a deserted slaughterhouse. They are covered in blood, masked, disheveled, dirty and euphoric from their kill. There is the requisite blaring techno music, though these are not juvenile delinquents, they are upstanding members of the community: teacher, auto mechanic, filmmaker, bartender, etc…. What happens, in no particular order, is the following: one vomits, some brag, blame is levied, they all dance, drink, fight, a shower is taken by a female cast member, and there is a little psychological analysis. In a bit of foreshadowing, a few become paranoid as to whether Joe (Anatol Yusef) is really dead. There is little to no humor to the proceedings. It is, in short, banal.

None of the characters were distinctive enough to stand out, but the actors were not to blame, and did what they could with the overwrought dialogue. Interestingly, the most compelling character was Joe (a.k.a. the devil), who is offstage for all of Act 1 and only referred to; in Act II, he gets center stage, as it were. This does not enliven the proceedings, as there is much talk and little action.

The most glaring technical problem came at the end of Act 1: a knock on the door startles the cast and they freeze, facing the audience. To myself, I said, “Blackout, blackout, blackout.” Instead, the poor actors were left stranded onstage, waiting for what seemed an interminable length of time before having to exit out of the same door the knock came from, with lights on, including the ones signaling intermission. There has to be a more expedient way to get the actors offstage.

My companion heard Jose Rivera interviewed on the radio, saying (and I paraphrase) “Massacre” was inspired by the events of the last 10 or 20 years. That’s quite broad, and I am not sure what exactly Rivera was going for. Every person has a devil in them? Evil cannot be vanquished? And yet, in “Massacre,” Joe gets all the best stories and the best lines. He persuades those who tried to kill him to see themselves in ways they would rather not. The devil can be a charming man.