Friday, May 11, 2012

Quick Take: Fresh Ink's Trog and Clay

I owe at least a short nod to Fresh Ink Theatre's Trog and Clay (An Imagined History of the Electric Chair), by up-and-coming playwright and screenwriter Michael Vukadinovich.

Fresh Ink was launched by several local playwrights to get their work produced, and so deserves our interest and support.  If Boston is ever to become nationally recognized as a theatre town, it needs more home-grown playwrights (and preferably some operating outside the naturalist precincts of the Huntington and BU).

So I was happy to see that "naturalism" is pretty much totally eschewed by author Vukadinovich (a great character name right there, if you ask me) - but I couldn't say the playwright has found his own voice yet, either.  Trog and Clay plays like a smart piece of ventriloquy, with the ironic voices coming from the likes of E.L. Doctorow and T. Coraghessan Boyle, while the dramaturgy channels current strains of free-form millennial whimsy.

Still, Vukadinovich has been inspired by a morbidly intriguing chapter of American history: the ghoulish birth of the electric chair, which gestated during an ongoing battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over whether the nation as a whole would go AC or DC (insert sniggering joke here).  The playwright loosely follows the case of the first man to be electrocuted (on alternating current), one William Kemmler, but embroiders this pathetic perp's grim story with an improbable intrigue tying him to Westinghouse, as well as a vaguely structured "vaudeville," if you will, starring the eponymous tramps Trog and Clay, who earn their daily bread capturing stray dogs for Edison to test his electrodes on.

I know.  Ugh.  Still, Vukadnovich has his macabre points to make regarding capital punishment (and the stray dogs of our own species who usually become its victims) - he just makes those points a bit heavy-handedly, and the broad acting style encouraged by director Lizette M. Morris does him no favors.  Still, as Trog and Clay, Cameron Beaty Gosselin and Louise Hamill have their moments, and several of the blackly comic asides are quite funny.  The production gets a boost in power from Tim Boland's evocative lighting, and definitely throws off sparks in its final, appalling scene of execution.  (Although the death endured by the actual Kemmler, who survived in the chair for several minutes, is even more gruesome than what is rendered here.)  Through Saturday evening at the Factory Theatre.


  1. Thanks, Tom! Just as a note to readers, Fresh Ink is not actually run by playwrights to produce our OWN work (though we do have one among us). Check out the staff at

  2. Thanks for the correction Robyn, I'm not sure how I got that idea!