A stunning piece of theatrical thriller takes to the stage at Iron Crow Theatre Company to kick start their 2013/2014 season: Myths, Monsters, and Legends. Conceived and written by company member Joseph W. Ritsch and Directed by Stephen Nunns, Apartment 213 – a horrifically thrilling piece of theatrical exploration – delves into the life of renowned serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, journeying into a world of text, light, video, movement and empathy to excavate the humanity of a societal monster. A riveting, albeit disturbing at times, piece of aesthetic genius, Ritsch and Nunns captivate the audience with striking work in a way nearly unfathomable.
Ritsch, mastering not only the role of writer and performer but Set Designer as well, creates a disturbingly haunting ambiance from the moment the audience is exposed to the set. Working in conjunction with Lighting Designer Alec Lawson and Sound Designer Bryan Schlein, Ritsch crafts an unsettling pulse into the space. The glow of the fish tank against the darkness of the set, the subtly outlined body on the couch; such vividly startling images created in the absence of light. Schlein and Ritsch later juxtapose sickeningly sweet crooner music into moments where ‘Jeff’ dances about the space to really skew the audience’s sudden perception of his existence. The design elements fall neatly into place, augmenting the overall spine-tingling nature of the show; neatly and meticulously planned, a haunting mirror of Dahmer’s methodical approach.
At times the videography feels too intense. There are often a whirl of images; mostly lewd naked man in various states of arousal that flood the screen, pulsating to a rhythm that matches the frantic existence of the staging below. This intensity, however, becomes a key factor in the way in which the show builds and builds, spiraling upward in a frenzy toward its final conclusion. Director Stephen Nunns focuses intently on balancing the action of what is happening with Jeff and ‘The Victim’ against the repetition of the text and video.
Ritsch incorporates rhythmic repetition of text into the piece at an alarming and disturbing rate; at first it simply sounds monotonous but as he (as Ritsch also plays the character of Jeff) begins to repeat the same phrases over and over with increasing speed and intensity the jarring reality becomes a harsh and terrifying slap in the face. His execution of these surreal, almost out of body moments, flushed directly against ‘in-scene’ moments where the audience is able to view Jeff interacting with ‘The Victim’ (Will Manning) creates a stark contrast that keeps the show on its toes.
Manning, as the victim (several different victims throughout), is a well-grounded performer and roots his existence in reactionary performance; his motives, speech pattern responses and even physical gestures are driven by the way he responds to Ritsch in scene. The pair have a brilliant working relationship that is clearly imbued with trust and despite the grotesque nature of some of the scenes they create moments of eerie tragic beauty that would be described as picturesque if they weren’t surrounded by the stigma of being repulsive.
Ritsch, in his portrayal of Jeff, does something that seems nearly impossible; he manages to portray this ‘monster’ in a fashion that presents him as a raw and vulnerable human being. Ritsch delves deeply into the character’s psyche and unearths a humanity; a misunderstood but honest existence that goes otherwise unseen when someone is affixed the label of ‘serial killer.’ The passionate existence that radiates consistently from him, whether he is performing in one of the dreamlike sequences or if he is present ‘in-scene’ with Manning is astounding.
Though disturbing (and there really is no better word for it) the show is a ‘must see.’ Even if you know nothing of Dahmer and even if you’d prefer to know nothing of Dahmer, Apartment 213 is a theatrical accomplishment and Ritsch succeeds in making it so with vigor.
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with no intermission.