Molotov Theatre’s ‘Normal’ is a chilling look at serial killer the Vampire of Dusseldorf


Brian McDermott, Elizabeth Darby and Alex Zavistovich in Normal from Molotov Theatre Group. (Kristin Jackman)

If horror suits your taste, then the small Molotov Theatre Group may be your bucket of blood. The hour-long creeper “Normal” is on display in the closet-sized District of Columbia Arts Center, and it’s one of those elegantly written anatomies of a demented serial killer — in this case, Peter Kurten (a.k.a. the Vampire of Dusseldorf).

In this 1991 drama about an actual Depression-era case in Germany, Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson’s dialogue is ultra-cold-blooded. Sophisticated banter flows easily between the dread Kurten and Justus (pronounced “Eustice”) Wehner, his defense attorney.

“Brutality belongs to love,” Kurten philosophizes to his young advocate.

“I don’t believe that,” Wehner replies nobly.

You can imagine this brand of calculated amorality being nicely chilled on the tongues of Orson Welles or Vincent Price. Alex Zavistovich (Kurten) and Brian McDermott aren’t up to that champagne standard, of course, but under Jay D. Brock’s direction they buy into the same brand of less-is-more restraint. Standing still on the largely bare, dimly lighted stage and talking does the trick. The DCAC space is so small you can see Zavistovich’s lip tremble when his Kurten recounts gory exploits and icky sexual thrills.

Neilson’s play runs mainly on dread. It’s a Jack the Ripper-esque case, so you worry how bad the action will get, what with actress Elizabeth Darby laid out like a corpse in a crypt-like recessed part of the stage. Darby is appropriately grotesque and helpless in one passage, wearing a weird clear mask that makes her look like a doll. (Libby Dasbach’s costumes have a nice formality — suits for the men and a plain white slip for Darby.)

A triangle emerges, inevitably, as Kurten purrs dirty suggestions about his own wife into Wehner’s ear. Horror buffs may not be truly shocked by where or how this lands, and horror-phobes will naturally steer clear of Molotov’s little haunted house. But this brief show is up to snuff, shall we say, as a disciplined exercise in gothic style.

Normal

By Anthony Neilson. Directed by Jay D. Brock. Lights, Pete Vargo; composer and sound design, Gregg Martin; choreography, Sarah Frances Williams; fight choreography, Alex Zavistovich. About 65 minutes. Tickets $25. Through March 30 at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. Call 202-462-7833 or visit molotovtheatre.org.

Nelson Pressley has been writing about theater and other arts – but mostly theater – for the Post since 1999.
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