How Love Survives in the Most Grotesque of Circumstances in CLEANSED

Their head just inches away from the overhead lights, Raymond Compton as Woman sits in rehearsal in a crouched over position, at the highest part of the stage making their debut in the Catastrophic Theatre production of CLEANSED.

This regional premiere, the production of the fertile, avant garde imagination of the late British playwright Sarah Kane, tells the story of a group outliers or “undesirables” ostracized and targeted because they live outside what the more conservative members of society consider normal.

What follows is a series of interactions among these people struggling to connect with each other and themselves, punctuated with gore, sex and sexual attacks, psychosis and suicide. Would-be audience members under 16 years of age will not be admitted, Catastrophic says.

Despite the content, or perhaps because of it, Compton maintains the real message of the play is a more universal one. “I don’t think the intention is ever to try to disturb the audience or to torture them in a way as for example in the theater of cruelty. I think it’s to help the plot toward the main message which is that love really does power through and survive in the bleakest, most disturbing situations. I think they use that plot and play with the imagery of flowers sprouting through even with rubble and destruction; they find their ways to grow again.”

Compton, who performs in drag at various venues in Houston, says they were contacted by co-director T Lavois Thiebaud who’d seen them in one of their drag performances and suggested the role of Woman might be a perfect fit.

Although they got a BA in theater from Texas Tech, Compton hadn’t been involved in theater here until this production but they were more than ready to resume once they read the part. “I’ve always since I can remember, I’ve always expressed myself more in a non-binary way. I’ve always leaned more towards feminine people in my life and expressing myself through a feminine way. I’ve never done a character like Woman. There aren’t really roles like that. So she’s really kind oa an enigma in the play. To be able to represent that is really, really cool.”

Catastrophic founding Artistic Director Jason Nodler and artist T Lavois Thiebaud are co-directing the production which the theater bills as an all-queer cast, directing team and crew (with one exception). Other cast members include Bryan Kaplún as Graham, Abraham Zeus Zapata as Rod, Ruben Ramires as Robin, Walt Zipprian as Tinker, Chuck Vaughn as Carl and Thiebaud as Grace.

As for the characters in the play, Compton says:

“While not every character falls under the queer spectrum, they do follow themes that actual queer people could relate to. The feeling of wanting to express your love, feel your love and having it kind of stopped by this force. I guess the force in this play would be Tinker. What is life worth living if you can’t express that love?”
Tinker is the main character that Woman interacts with and who causes much of the damage to the other characters with both physical and mental abuse carried to the extreme. Asked to describe Tinker, Compton says :”On first impressions it is sadistic. Like all evil force acting in the world there are layers to it, nuances to it. Sometimes people are acting out on hate that is taught to them.”

There really isn’t a set time for this play, Compton says. “All throughout history there’s always been these themes.

“My biggest challenge I guess uncovering the bigger picture for the character, what does she represent and how would I get that across to the audience. “The performing part, the dancing, that’s every third Wednesday for me so that’s easy. That came naturally.” they says laughing.

The other challenge is where Compton’s performance takes place on the roof of a house. “It is a little daunting because where we are on the set is a little high. Making sure I don’t look down.”

Performances are scheduled for April 5 through April 27 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-521-4533 or visit Pay what you can.