October 24, 1989

'Victor's Spoils'
by Alisa Solomon

VICTOR. A play by Roger Vitrac, translated by Meredith Brosnan, directed by Robin Goldsmith, presented by Doggie Bones Productions in association with Bad Neighbors, Ltd. at ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington Street.

What better place for a revivial of surrealism than ABC No Rio? The Lower East Side storefront that kicked off the "East Village Art" movement--but never followed it into trendiness--has always smashed ideas about genre and defied elite and commercial attitudes toward art. A gallery, performance space, speaker's platform, and neighborhood hangout--often all at the same time--ABC No Rio would never think of painting its walls white or hanging track lighting. Instead, the long, dank room, with potholes in the floor and stalactites of plaster dangling from the ceiling, is covered with murals of graffiti, urban cave paintings that shimmer when the walls sweat.

Roger Vitrac's VICTOR is right at home here. Directed by artaud in 1928, the play created the requisite surrealist scandal and closed after just a few performances. Its mean-spirited parody of bourgeois drama and values had become tame enough to provide Anouilh with a hit in 1962, but it was never produced in the U.S. Now, playing in such an aggressively funky space in Manhattan's least ungentrified neighborhood, VICTOR regains its edge, thumbing its nose at family, church, state--and not least, dramatic decorum--with the snottiness of an obnoxious child.

Victor is a six-foot-four nine-year-old who is, by his own estimation, "terribly, terribly intelligent." Played with smarmy nasality by Gregory St. John, he's a manipulative little creep who shuns the charm claimed by all those adorably precocious lads with their own sitcoms. He and his friend Esther expose his father's affair with her mother, meanwhile goading her insane father into wild rants about his--and France's--once glorious exploits.

While the plot is pure drawing-room comedy turned inside out, what's most enjoyable is Vitrac's twisted dialogue. Lines that sound like they make perfect sense tilt strangely away from logic: "Oh, armchair of my destiny," croons Victor as he gropes at the maid. "Therese has been worried for weeks. Today she became alarmed," says Victor's father, sizing up his mistress's frenzy.

Except for moments of shrillness in the third act, Robin Goldsmith's manic production successfully mixes the play's cynicisms with its veneer of naivete--just like a slogan on ABC No Rio's walls, "Get the fuck off the bandwagon and decide for yourself what is best."

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