Correction to This Article
The article misspelled the name of local playwright Gwydion Suilebhan.

Taffety Punk Theatre's 'The Faithkiller' Is Multimedia Experience

By Chris Klimek
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 3, 2009

When Marcus Kyd founded Taffety Punk Theatre Company with four friends in 2004, the idea was to bring the anyone-can-play ethos and raw physicality of punk rock into the theater -- to "run Shakespeare through distortion pedals," as Kyd puts it.

But the group's latest offering is more like one of U2's sensory-overload stadium gigs than a sweaty club show by Fugazi.

In the Kyd-helmed premiere of local playwright Gwydion Suilebahn's "The Faithkiller," nine actors compete for the audience's attention with excerpts of radio plays, and a TV show, starring themselves.

The story concerns the creator of a fictional 1940s radio series, also called "The Faithkiller," chronicling the two-fisted adventures of the titular superhero who battled the Nazis with his Brain Drain Gun, from which a single, humanizing blast could cure even the staunchest brownshirt of his taste for fascism and genocide. We also see a present-day TV update, wherein the Faithkiller wages a guerrilla campaign against the fundamentalist theocracy that is the U.S. government of the near future. The playgoing audience experiences those scenes as radio and TV broadcasts. Which is postmodern, or post-postmodern, but there's a downside to the approach: It compelled Kyd and his collaborators to make radio and TV shows, in addition to their play.

"It's been a pretty insane few days," Kyd says with a sigh 10 days before the first preview. (The show opened Monday at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.) The audio processing to make the radio bits sound like they were recorded 65 years ago instead of last month is almost complete. The video is largely edited. The actors have done nearly a full run-through, sans the A/V elements.

In other words, nothing is finished.

Kyd, 37, can't complain: It was his idea to produce-for-real the radio and TV interludes in Suilebahn's script. Like so many innovations in art, this was as much a practical inspiration as an aesthetic one. Suilebahn "probably had something the size of Center Stage or Arena in mind," Kyd admits, "but I'm dealing with a 20-foot room." The multimedia angle solved the space crunch and gave him a device to seize the attention of an audience of multi-taskers.

"Staging a TV show is going to look like a play no matter what you do," he explains. "But using the footage and editing it like TV bumps up the sexiness of it."

A TV-show-within-a-play is a natural next step for a company that has experimented with sound design ("The Devil in His Own Words," starring Kyd as Satan) and choreography ("The Phoenix & the Turtle" at the 2006 Page to Stage Festival featured an aerialist's interpretation of the Shakespeare poem).

Kyd knows his way around a recording studio, having sung and played guitar in the band the Most Secret Method, which toured internationally and released two albums circa 1995-2002. He and his cast recorded the radio segments the first day they assembled. But filmmaking? That's a whole different roll of gaffer tape.

While the use of original video as a key story element is a first for Taffety Punk, in the theater, it's becoming a trend. "Frost/Nixon" gave the audience TV-angle close-ups of the actors in real time. Several recent D.C. productions have made inventive use of video, including Woolly Mammoth's 2008 "Boom" and Catalyst's adaptation of Brecht's "Roundheads and Peakheads" earlier this year.

"There is the fear that it's too much or that it's gimmicky," Kyd acknowledges. "I'm trying to guide the audience's focus, but I am pushing the overlaps. If we stage it right, their eyes will always be on what we want them to see, but they'll also catch the peripheral stuff.

"It might be exhausting," he says with a laugh. "But I'm gonna push it."

The Faithkiller Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 Seventh St. SE. 800-838-3006. http://www.brownpapertickets.com. Through April 18. $10.


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