It’s refreshing to see humans being eaten by something other than zombies. Salt Lake City recently housed such a spectacle and everyone seemed very OK with it. Strange Beast Dance Circus brought us the musical/comedy/horror, Cannibal: A Love Story. On one hand this presentation seems to be a very typical love story minus the burden of social networking. One individual is simply devoured by another and you call it a day. On the other hand, a small concerning detail would show this is more the Cannibal Corpse definition of devour (’ed by vermin) than the Hall & Oats’ definition (“Maneater”) that we’ve all come to know and love. This love story has the twist of live people in a romance enjoying the pleasant and alluring dining of former people. The musical follows a food critic who is pleased to the point of arousal by a new out of the way restaurant and the restaurant, with its praying mantis like owner. The erotic and clever owner sets a wildly entertaining trap of romance, love, wit and certain death but alas, we should start from the beginning.
Generally, theater engagements with the word “cannibal” in them aren’t dressy events. This made walking into the Jeanne Wagner Theatre this past weekend an awkward occasion for myself. After two steps into the theater’s gorgeous presentation I realized I was sadly out dressed by the creative to upscale art culture attire. No messy brown haired rockers were to be seen, so with subtle embarrassment I found the wonderfully hard working Jackie to escort me to my seat where I could hide in shame. As the guests poured in I observed (eaves dropped) on a plethora of creative and open conversations. I heard F bombs by professors, an un-shameful and observant conversation about culture from a woman I believe was a witch at some point, and more hugs were shared than a middle school prom. This is Salt Lake City’s art culture, and they feel very comfy to be around.
The music begins and we meet Genevieve Christianson for the first time. Her presence “consumed” the attention of the happy theater goers, making the room a nice little coincidence to what they were about to witness. As the restaurant owner, she causally sings the audience into the humorous and pleasantly violent atmosphere of the show. With winks and hip-induced gestures she appears to be comedic mix of Bettie Boop and Maleficent, if Chuck Palahniuk was writing the dialogue. The lights then fade and we meet our second character, the food critic played by Dan Larrinaga. Larrinaga plays “food critic” the way film noir plays detectives, which fit the accompanied music termed “jazz noir” to a T. His comedic timing was always met with approving laughter, and one particular prop mishap seemed to show he was very comfortable with improvisation. The two-piece band creating the “jazz noir” consisted of Alden Terry (bass) and Jeffrey Price (piano). The music played continually throughout the show and was even used to accentuate dialogue in its lesser moments. The lack of a cello was not noticed in the amount of sound these gentlemen displayed and several attendees commented on its effective simple structure.
The plot was segmented by hilarious and almost combative dance routines. The athleticism displayed by this troop was impressive and, during one song, almost concerning as they haplessly flung themselves offstage only to return on the other end moments later. The props and costumes used by this dance team were very effective in enhancing the humor. They seemed to be really enjoying themselves as they performed and I’ve never scene a butcher steal so many scenes. The dance team twirled around our restaurant owner while she slowly sunk her love into our food critic. She feeds him, he grew to crave flesh and the rest is sweet, sweet cannibal romance.
After the show I went in search of a program because, in my hurry to hide my attire-related embarrassment, I hadn’t received one earlier. I thanked Jackie, the fastest moving senior I’ve ever seen, for her efforts and continued my aimless wandering. A sure sign of a successful show is that there are no programs crumpled up and thrown about. In the case of Cannibal: A Love Story, I was reduced to asking staff after almost sticking my hand in a trash can. Not only could none be found but the room was filled with the types of conversations where no one was listening and everyone was praising. The art culture has taste even at a distance, so such blatant bolstering just confirmed my beliefs in a fantastic performance.
I would never willingly condone a sequel but for this I would make an exception; perhaps Cannibal 2: A Love (of your life) Story, where the stakes get bigger or maybe the more controversial. Cannibal 2: A Swinging Love Story with blood that sprays into the audience. I think this audience could take it; maybe even enjoy it. I don’t know anymore, I feel changed by this … and that’s a very good thing. Thanks to the Jeanne Wagner Theatre and Strange Beast Dance Circus for an incredible evening.