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Column

Live Active Cultures

Frost/Butcher's "Quills" asks how far one can push the boundaries of explicitness before an audience revolts

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Luckily, the trio of veteran actors was able to elevate the evening. Marion Marsh Skinner was vivacious and vicious in her too-brief role as de Sade's estranged wife, and Lima (despite a vaguely aristocratic affectation in lieu of an actual accent) imbued his self-righteous cuckold with a mix of pettiness and pathos. Carson – long respected locally as a comic actor – fearlessly exposed his considerable dramatic talents; his Marquis started out a buffoon, but burned with radical resolve once his garments were confiscated. The balance of the cast came across as somewhat unseasoned and too contemporary, by comparison. As the timorous priest, Costella initially appeared too milquetoast to be a credible foil to Carson, but as Coulmier became the play's protagonist, Costella compellingly cut loose with the crazy.

During the post-premiere talkback, 30-year BDSM veteran Master Cecil made the point that "the lifestyle" isn't only about sensual stimulation, but about "finding a safe place to explore your inner self." When done well, the same should be said of theater. Quills raises provocative questions about the artist's responsibility for his audience's response, but offers no satisfying conclusions. Much like de Sade's stories, it's superficially titillating but ultimately too absurdly icky to actually be either erotic or cathartic. Frost and Butcher's efforts at the Woodshed tended more toward gimmickry than gnosis, but they should be applauded for attempting to shake theater patrons out of the comfort zone.

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