NU Performance Festival 2018: Jerk, the radioplay
Direction: Gisèle Vienne
Text: Dennis Cooper
Original and live music: Peter Rehberg
Recorded voices: Jonathan Capdevielle, Dennis Cooper

NU Performance Festival 2018 gives you an opportunity to reconstruct a crime spree by an American serial killer Dean Corll who was assisted by two teenagers – Wayne Henley and David Brooks. There are actually two versions of this Gisèle Vienne’s directed play Jerk – the first version is played out as a puppet show and the second one as a radioplay. In Tallinn, you can experience the latter. You enter the studio, sit down in front of the loudspeakers, soon it goes dark and the journey begins …

It’s a first-person narrative describing the crimes which became known as the Houston Mass Murders as they were experienced by one of the teenage assistants of Corll – David Brooks, or a “drug-addicted, psychotic teen murderer in the early ’70s” as he appoints himself. He is now serving his life sentence in prison where he started to learn the art of puppets and the whole radioplay is presented as his performance to the professor William Griffith of the University of Texas and his undergraduate class in ‘Freudian Psychology Refracted Through Postmodern Example’.

The story begins with an existential problem raised by Dean Corll. He has come to the point where he realized that there’s tons of stuff going on inside the boys’ heads while they’ve been killed but he doesn’t know anything about them – except they’re cute – and it makes him feel like the dead boys don’t belong to him anymore. Dean’s teenage follower Wayne comes up with an idea that it doesn’t matter who the hell they are – killing is all about power and you can make up whoever you want and imagine that person in the dead body. So from now on, Dean gives the killed boys the whole new identities – now there will be Luke Halpin, the actor who played the older of the two sons on the TV show Flipper and Jay North from Dennis the Menace among his victims. As Wayne explains to David afterward – these imaginary characters are only what you see onscreen, they have no interior life unlike real human beings (who are impossible to understand!), so if you imagine that your victim is, for example, Luke Halpin or Jay North or, why not, Jimmy Page, you know exactly who you’ve killed and it makes the death more meaningful and complete.

The characters of the play are created, written and played out incredibly well and believable. The dialogues written by an American writer Dennis Cooper are sharp, witty, and, from time to time, darkly and painfully funny. The boys invited to Dean’s place are mostly depressed teenagers who are talked into death by manipulations and convincing of Dean. So while they end up in the basement of Dean’s apartment they have already decided that “murder is a cool concept” and “death just sounds like a great place”. A psychotic and somewhat unreliable narrator David adds an extra layer. He manages to balance subtly between admitting that he has been part of these grim crimes and, at the same time, being a plain eye-witness who is trying to distance himself from all that is happening. He sometimes acts as an almost lifeless object in a room where the crimes take place, hiding behind the Super 8 camera, being just a terrified observer, although now and then he is even standing on his tiptoes to get unusual angles, and thus contributing something special to Dean’s perverse film collection. We cannot be one hundred percent sure if angst and disgust in his voice are his genuine emotions or is it part of his attempt to present himself as a better human being than his depraved companions.

The music that is accompanying the whole radioplay is created by an author and performer of electronic audio works, Austrian based Peter Rehberg. Sometimes the sounds function as labyrinthic paths that make ways through your brain channels, illustrating perfectly the narrator’s phrase “They all get incredibly stoned”, and sometimes they are just mere hints of sounds that you may not even notice at first, but they still manage to set up the atmosphere and tonality of each scene. Music mostly stays in the background, but it builds up at some moments and culminates with a noisy and hellish chaos – just like the whole story.

As part of the NU Performance Festival, Jerk, the radioplay can be experienced once again today, on October 24, 2018, at the 1st Studio of Estonian Public Broadcasting (Kreutzwaldi 14).