Star-Bulletin Features

Chris Garre tortures Mariko Neubauer, who is accused of being a witch in the interactive drama "Heresy," staged by Cruel Theatre.

Exploring dark side
of human nature

The audience joins Cruel Theatre's action

By John Berger

A mosquito or two were making their presence known as Taurie Kinoshita and the cast of "Heresy" conducted a final "environmental rehearsal" last Saturday in a small Makiki park.

In rehearsing the story about witch hunts in pre-industrial Europe, the cast has been getting a feel for night life in a pre-modern environment.

"The way people respond to their environment is very important, and this gets away from the modern feeling of bright lights. You get a feeling of what it was like being isolated in the 16th century. No electricity. Darkness," Kinoshita said as the day faded into twilight.

Kinoshita and cast members Chris Garre, Ben Lukey, Jason Natale, Mariko Neubauer, Danel Verdugo and the single-monikered Aaron expected to spend at least an hour rehearsing in semi-darkness.

Kinoshita first presented "Heresy" as interactive theater in 1999. Although it was only the second Cruel Theatre production, it attracted more than 100 people per show -- too many to maintain control in an improvisational interactive theater setting, Kinoshita said. She's approaching the story differently this time.

"We know a little more about (working with) audience members now, so structurally it's different. In the first one you were either a blacksmith, a seamstress, farmer, or one of the jailers. In this one, the audience members get specific names and have specific roles, so there's more potential for specific relationships to develop."

The revised production includes an introductory "endowment" segment during which actors and audience members talk one-on-one and gather accusations and testimony by the designated witch hunters, leading to the interrogation and trial of suspected witches. The other members of the group then decide which of the accused will be executed.

"Anyone can be accused. Audience members can accuse each other, or audience members can accuse other actors, or you can say you're a witch and go through the ringer, but we decided there's someone that we start it with."

"Heresy" is intended to explore issues of mob rule and mass hysteria in relation to religious faith and social upheaval, "crisis in the church" psychology, sociopolitical and economic motivations -- all representing the darker side of human nature.

Were there people who benefited from "uncovering" witches? In one famous case, a wealthy man who had been accused of witchcraft chose to die under torture because the property of a confessed "witch" was confiscated by the state when the witch was executed; since the man died without confessing, and had not been found guilty at trial, his property was retained by his family.

Suspected witches in England "got stripped and shaved so they could look for the 'witch's mark,' " Kinoshita said, but that won't happen in "Heresy."

"We figured that if we were going to strip actors then we'd also have to strip audience members to be consistent (and) it would become a completely different show. We don't know what may happen, but we're not taking audience members' clothes off," Kinoshita said.

And, despite the likelihood of some light, repeat, light, simulated torture of a suspected witch or two, "Heresy" is not going to become "The Dungeon Goes to Church of the Crossroads," she said.

"What we're about is everyone together as a group -- the audience members and the actors -- and this connection between them. The whole Grotowskian thing," she said, in talking about the roots of Cruel Theatre's philosophy.

Jerry Grotowski held that the connection between actor and audience is the most essential aspect of the theatrical experience. Augusto Boal advanced the theory of the Spect-Actor -- the empowered spectator who participates in the action because, in the final analysis, all people are actors.

Kinoshita hopes the audience will come to the performances with the spirit of adventure.

"If they want to not (participate) they can, but hopefully they will because it's so much better when they do."

"If you haven't seen a Cruel Theatre show, this would be a good introduction because it would work you up to one of the one-on-ones. You still get time alone with the actors, but when the actual show begins, you can sit back and just watch if you want."


Presented by Cruel Theatre

When: 8 tonight, April 18 and 19; eating starts at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Church of the Crossroads, 1212 University Ave.

Tickets: $12 general, $7 for students

Call: 523-1004

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