Oates, Lobotomized: Zombie at The Studio Theatre at Theatre Row

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Photo credit: c Dixie Sheridan

Jeffrey Dahmer did it because of Modern Biology:

“I always believed the lie that evolution is truth, that the theory of evolution is truth, that we all just came from the slime and when we died that was it. There was nothing. So it, the whole theory, cheapens life.”

“Quentin P.” did it because of Modern Physics:

“This is why: seeing the Universe like that, you see how futile it is to believe that any galaxy matters, let alone any star of any galaxy or any planet the size of not even a grain of sand in all that void. Let alone any continent or any nation or any state or any county or any city or any individual.”

Dahmer, speaking in November 1994, was giving what turned out to be his “Final Interview.” Joyce Carol Oates’ Quentin (who first appeared in the New Yorker a month earlier) is simply keeping a private diary, so he descends from cosmic apologetics to his primary motive for trying to create a lobotomized sex slave, or “zombie”:

“The idea came to me at that time too because I was having trouble keeping my dick hard with guys’ AWAKE EYES observing me at intimate quarters.”

A more candid Dahmer might have said the same.

None of Quentin’s “specimens” survive his crude attempts at surgery (a “humble ice pick” inserted over the eye) but, in adapting this work for the stage, Bill Connington has performed a successful lobotomy. Nothing is left of Oates’ vision ― a subtle dialectic between Quentin’s sexually motivated impulse to kidnap and lobotomize beautiful boys and the rational edifice he builds to justify his actions. Connington has severed the synapses and “flattened” the affect, producing a brain-dead one act.

Oates’ Quentin introduces himself by ticking off vital statistics: 39 years old, 5’ 10”, 147 lbs., brown hair, brown eyes, medium build. “Distinguishing features: none.” The emphasis is on normality, building trust: “I never contradict. I am in agreement with you as you utter your words of wisdom.” Of course, only a psychopath would speak like this. We’ll soon find out that Quentin is on parole, that he plead guilty to sexually assaulting a minor, that he’s been trying to create a “zombie” for five years. But by the time that we discover all of this, we’ve grown accustomed to Quentin’s rhythms, even willing to consider his explanations. Occasionally, we catch ourselves: shouldn’t we be more shocked? Are we really mistaking Quentin’s rationalizations for reason?

“Her madness hath the oddest frame of sense, Such a dependency of thing on thing, As e’er I heard in madness.” [via]

In Connington’s pastiche, “admitted sex offender”, “black cock”, “ice pick”, and “zombie” are all pasted into the first two minutes. There is no “frame of sense,” no “dependency of thing on thing,” and therefore nothing to implicate the audience. Just a weirdo onstage who, we serenely conclude, should be locked up or medicated or locked up and medicated. Any connection to our own impulses or our own rationalizations is severed, and we’re left, as usual, with The Psychopath As Monster. Nothing particularly interesting ― or scary ― about that.