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The Law of Remains (1992) 84 minutes

The Law of Remains at the Diplomat Hotel 116 West 43d Street Through March 14, 1992


Created and directed by Reza Abdoh; produced by Diane White; sets, Sonia Balassanian; lights, Rand Ryan; sound, Raul Vincent Enriquez; video Adam Soch; costumes, Liz Widulski; production stage manager, Mike Taylor.     Presented by Dar A Luz.


WITH: Sabrina Artel, Brenden Doyle, Anita Durst, Giuliana Francis, Stephan Francis, Ariel Herrera, Priscilla Holbrook, Peter Jacobs, Kwasi Boateng, Sardar Singh Khalsa, Veronica Pawlowska, Raphael Pimental, Tom Pearl, Tony Torn and Kathryn Walsh. Drummer, Carlos Rodriguez.


The young Los Angeles director Reza Abdoh is notorious for theater pieces that have the decibel level of rock shows and apocalyptic imagery involving graphic sexual parody and violence. And in "The Law of Remains," a multi-media extravaganza staged in the abandoned ballroom of the Hotel Diplomat, he has created one of the angriest theater pieces ever hurled at a New York audience.


A year and a half ago, Mr. Abdoh made his New York debut with "Father Was a Peculiar Man," a spectacular theatrical deconstruction of "The Brothers Karamazov" presented by the En Garde Arts company on the streets of Manhattan's meatpacking district.


In "The Law of Remains," that feast has turned into a blood-soaked pageant of contemporary Grand Guignol depicting mass murder, sexual mutilation, necrophilia and cannibalism simulated by actors portraying the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (named Jeffrey Snarling in the script) and Andy Warhol and his entourage. The work is divided into seven scenes, scattered over two floors of the hotel, that are intended to trace the soul's journey as described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.


The script incorporates lengthy excerpts from Milwaukee police reports of the Jeffrey Dahmer case. Focusing on Mr. Dahmer's beating and later murder of a teen-age Laotian boy and the casual response of the police who were called to the scene of the assault, it hammers home the point that because the victim was gay and could not speak English, the crime wasn't taken seriously and the boy was left with Mr. Dahmer. The event becomes a metaphor for governmental indifference to the AIDS crisis.


There is much to admire in the work, which is a skillful compendium of avant-garde styles. The director's deployment of a 14-member cast suggests the grand ensemble choreography of Pina Bausch. His herding of the audience around the ballroom to witness a series of grotesque tableaux recalls Squat Theater. And the way the youthful cast is pushed to the limits of its physical endurance echoes the Flemish director Jan Fabre's "Power of Theatrical Madness."


But "The Law of Remains" also continually undermines its own political ambitions. The sheer density of the noise and tumult make it hard to follow. And the notion of having Mr. Dahmer's grisly crimes re-enacted as a parody of a movie being made by Warhol and his fame-obsessed minions clouds the issue by seeming to attack the Warhol ethos for its kinkiness when the intended target is the mass media's sensationalistic exploitation of serial killers.


Never allowed to stay put for long, the audience is rudely prodded to move from place to place around the ballroom. This unceremonious treatment is only one aspect of a production that seems to want to punish as much as to enlighten. "The Law of Remains" is a disturbing work that runs amok in its own gory imagination.


Published: February 26, 1992, NEW YORK TIMES

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