Written and Performed by John Fleck; Directed by Randee Trabitz
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs through 11.19.16
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street
by Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti on 11.9.16
John Fleck in Blacktop Highway. Photo by Rafael Hernandez.
BOTTOM LINE: Murder, incest, and Freud—oh my! John Fleck's engaging and mind-bending solo horror tale will shock you in all the best ways.
In a news cycle full of examples of the most terrifying impulses of humanity, John Fleck’s new one-man gothic horror show Blacktop Highway is almost a welcome respite. Filled with death, greed, sex, and secrets, the shocking story initially follows a classically suspenseful plot, though quickly veers off the titular highway into more sinister revelations. Yet fright master though he be, Fleck also has created a work that is cheekily humorous, inviting its audience into a space of suspended belief and then smashing it all to pieces with a wink. Goofy and disarming, Blacktop Highway is like the nightmare after eating too much Halloween candy. Mixing unconscious psyche with striking images, Fleck frightens and welcomes with the same flourish.
Fleck’s cast of colorful creatures begins with a handsome lonely stranger, whose car accident in the atmospheric rain leads him to stumble onto a taxidermy-filled ramshackle clapboard mansion occupied by sister Jane and brother Frank...and others. Fleck’s talent for throwing kitsch and emotionally complex narratives is made apparent in the show’s grotesque horror, which includes a baby deep fried in batter, butterscotch incest, and a haunting, bloody rendition of Henry Purcell’s aria “When I am Laid in Earth” from the opera Dido and Aeneas. Flocked by anthropomorphized caged creatures, the story stimulates and shocks, created almost entirely by or on Fleck’s own body.
Presented like a screenplay, Blacktop Highway moves quickly and pulls no punches. Fleck is passionately engaging, fluctuating with admirable acuity between his exaggerated characters in the tragic troop. Through vocal shifts and grimaces (as well as a well-placed wig or two), Fleck becomes at one moment the sexually repressed Jane, in another her Bible-thumping veterinarian father. As such, themes of family alienation and dysfunction seem to run like throbbing veins through the piece. Fleck, aware of the easy intellectualization of the work, stabs this bloody jugular with a series of satirical academic interruptions, projecting a prerecorded video of a laughably obtuse tweed-wearing character. With references to the French philosopher Baudrillard’s concept of “simulacra”—the representation of a person or thing—Fleck analyzes his own show during the performance, forcing the audience to determine for themselves how much of this work is based in autobiographical truths.
Fleck’s reputation precedes him, famously part of the NEA Four group of artists who sued the National Endowment for the Arts in 1990 after having their individual grants rescinded based on conservative Senator Jesse Helms’ objections to obscenity. In Blacktop Highway, it becomes clear that this is an identity Fleck bears with pride, challenging the audience to feel alive in all of the complexities therein. Horror, like sex, is intimacy with danger and vulnerability; Fleck opens the doors to both our fantasies and fears
(Blacktop Highway plays at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, through November 19, 2016. The running time is one hour with no intermission. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30. Tickets are $18, $15 for students and seniors. To purchase call 212-219-0736 or visit dixonplace.org.)
Blacktop Highway is written and performed by John Fleck. Directed by Randee Trabitz. Video Design by Heather Fipps. Costume Design by Christina Wright. Puppet Design by Christine Papalexis. Original Lighting Design by Vortex Lighting. Sound Design by Catasonic Records. Video Tech by Heather Olivier. Stage Assistant is Dahlia Barakat.