The playbill cover for "The Painter," which opened Thursday at Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, proclaims "Some nightmares come true." And there is most definitely a nightmarish quality to Roger Floyd's theatrical meditation on the mind of a madman.
But does anyone want to be in the mind of a madman?
Floyd, who also stars, certainly pulls out all the stops in his vivid, at times hallucinatory, portrayal of William Sickert — an artist who some scholars believe was Jack the Ripper. In "The Painter," Sickert certainly believes he is Jack — but perhaps that's just part of the madness.
There are no answers here, no linear plotline. In an uncannily committed performance, Floyd unleashes a torrent of fevered, frenzied words as he tries to explain the pleasure, excuse the crime, embrace the thrill and defend the compulsion of a serial killer.
It's essentially a 70-minute monologue to the audience, with Krystal Gillette and Leesa Castaneda as a bloody, battered Greek chorus of sorts. They are in Sickert's mind, too, spirits of his victims. In turn, they berate him, cajole him and taunt him with heaving bosoms and bared teeth.
It's uncomfortable watching. But Floyd and director Paul Castaneda obviously want the play to unnerve the audience — it shows in nearly everything they do.
And this bizarre mix of discomfort and strange fascination scores in its theatricality. The sounds: A strange scratching noise as Floyd claws at the bodice of one of the Ripper's victims. The sights: Sickert reduced to an animal, as Floyd disturbingly growls, snorts and shakes on all fours, pawing at the ground. The smells: OK, there are no actual smells but the imagination is sickeningly activated when Floyd sniffs the air with gusto after his freshest kill.
Floyd can effectively use words and paint mental pictures, too. Scattered phrases emerge from Sickert's rantings: "divine whispers of God," "the rains of slaughter," "the blackness of red," "a rapist of angels who have lost their way." He speaks of a sister who liked to tear the wings off butterflies and mimics the sound: "Phift, Phiift, Phiiiiift."
On opening night, the actors had a peculiar trick of standing just outside their light, leaving the focus on a rug. If that's deliberate — some idea of "lurking in the shadows," perhaps? — it's distracting. And because Sickert's spewing thoughts are so feverish from the get-go, there's not much variation in tone. When he finally pauses, falling on his knees for some raspy breaths, you might utter a prayer of thanks for the sudden silence.
A confession with an unorthodox Irish priest (also Floyd) interestingly breaks things up, and a nifty trick with a self-portrait of Sickert is a fun touch.
But this is no evening at the follies.
Perhaps this is a show for folks who like putting themselves in uncomfortably scary situations — like Halloween Horror Nights fans. Or maybe it's for those who like to watch cable-TV surgery shows just to gross themselves out. It's definitely a show for those who appreciate a laser-focused performance, the drama of the theater and the power of words.
If they have the stomach for it.
• What: A GOAT production of a play by Roger Floyd
• Length: 70 minutes, no intermission
• Where: Greater Orlando Actors Theatre, 2431 Aloma Ave., Winter Park
• When: 8 p.m. Oct. 11-14, 26-27 and 31; Nov. 1-3
• Tickets: $18, $15 seniors and students
• Call: 407-872-8451
• Online: Goatgroup.orgCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun