Theater Review - Farewell to arms

There’s a brilliant two-and-a-half hour play inside Sensurround Stagings’ daring, drawn-out adaptation of Geek Love, running through Jan. 25 at Horizon Theatre. Aileen Loy and Mike Katinsky’s script, in its first production ever, currently contains so many characters, speeches and episodes that it’s like a body with at least one superfluous pair of limbs.

Geek Love ingeniously begins with the Binewski family “story time,” an eerie distortion of “normalcy” in which the parents (Josie Burgin Lawson and Tim Cordier) explain how they intentionally induced birth defects in their children so they could raise them as sideshow freaks. The Binewski bunch includes conjoined twins (Kalina McCreery and Caroline Masclet) and a limbless “flipper boy” (Charlie Burnett) who builds a fortune-telling act into a national cult following of willing amputees. Narrator Olympia (Anessa Ramsey) is a bald, albino hunchback teenager who resembles the It’s Alive baby at college age.

From the outset, we want to spend more time with the Binewski parents and children, but Geek Love brings in so many incidents — from attempted assassinations to bouts of telekinesis — that the narrative can’t focus on any single aspect for long. Katherine Dunn’s novel becomes a stage play of staggering complexity, and not just in the quantity of speaking parts, scene changes and theatrical effects. The weird, fraught relationships and slangy dialogue alone demand close attention.

Loy and Katinsky proved insufficiently ruthless in pruning Dunn’s plot and could have sacrificed admittedly intriguing roles like Jeff Zwartjes’ shifty reporter, or even the entire subplot about grown-up Olympia secretly protecting her daughter (Rachel Sorsa). The show’s first performance ran well over three hours, but by the third act it had lost much of its momentum.

Still, Geek Love’s wild makeup and stage magic prove the stuff of both bad dreams and dark comedy. Most of the actors show great physical ease with each other as well as their elaborate costumes, and Ramsey has extraordinary presence. In Geek Love’s three-ring circus, she’s the main attraction.

Sensurround Stagings presents Geek Love through Jan. 25 at Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun 5 p.m. $12-$15. 404-614-0990.