Playwright and University of Texas at Dallas professor Thomas Riccio—and in the interest of disclosure, he's also a contributor to TheaterJones, conducting a series of audio interviews with local artistic directors—wrote Tricks 30 years ago, in his 20s.
I have only seen two of his plays before, Some People and blahblah (both written in his 50s), and it's tempting to write off Tricks as the work of a less mature talent. But of course, that describes many artists when you compare early work to something created after three decades of more life experience and craft-honing.
The one-act, performed by Riccio's outfit Dead White Zombies at WaterTower Theatre's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, has two characters—but just one of them played by a human. Jack (Brad Hennigan) comes home from work and is ready for a night of foreplay and fetish with the woman he calls "honey," Mary. We don't see her for about the first half of the play (she's voiced by Lori McCarthy, who also directs the show).
Jack rubs his upper body with lotion and tries out fetish gear, and it becomes clear that she loves to dominate and he loves to be dominated. When he brings her into sight of the audience, we discover that she's a blow-up doll. And he's probably not using her as a trick to access the HOV lane.
As played by the doughy, beer-bellied and bald Hennigan, Jack thinks he's pretty slick to nab a hot-stuff girlfriend who'll fulfill his fantasies, no matter how twisted some might consider them. Fantasies of any stripe are generally harmless; we all play mind tricks with our sexual partners, whether super vanilla or extra spicy. In this scenario, the tables turn—who is playing tricks on whom?—and the affair turns violent. Just when you think it couldn't shock any more, the ending is macabre, perverse and disturbing.
And that's the point. How far are we willing to let our tricks take us?
If you're eager to denounce what happens as a perpetuation of violence against women (it was smart of Riccio to have a woman direct), remember that Jack is a character with obvious mental failings—not because of his sexual proclivities but because he believes an inanimate object is speaking to him. Making demands, even.
It's not easy to watch, and even the most open-minded theatergoer might turn six shades of red, because you're experiencing an intimate situation with strangers. That leads to uncomfortable and inappropriate laughter. (It's especially interesting when paired with the wholesome puppy love of Audacity Theatre Lab's Raspberry Fizz, although both shows incorporate a theme of illusion.)
Hennigan admirably attacks the role with abandon, which can't be easy in a leather g-string and surrounded by items you'd find in an adult store. That doesn't make us like him in the end, because what he does is despicable. But it does allow us to like him for longer than we want to.
That's some trick.
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