Director Jose Zayas's adaptation of Brian Evenson's thriller/exposé Father of Lies is not for the faint of heart. A slowly curdling psychological horror story of sexual abuse, murder, and mutilation, it plunges past merely common evil into that region of nothingness described in the play as making hell seem like "a picnic."
PS 122's uncomfortable seating and lack of air conditioning somehow suit the increasing press of fate around the central character, a young Mormon churchman and new father named Fochs. (The name, pronounced "Fox," is frequently commented upon in the text. That's one of a number of ways the play reflects the experimental nature of some of Evenson's writing). The excellent Evan Enderle plays Fochs acutely, clearly conveying the impression the clergyman makes upon his wife and superiors as a mere man, if a serious and vaguely troubled one. His demonic side is so distinct it appears separately as The Man, played with delicious, subtle creepiness by Richard Toth.
Zayas's nuanced script comes alive through the mouths—and bodies—of his well-chosen cast. The superb Jocelyn Kuritsky thoroughly convinces as the trusting wife gradually realizing that the accusations of child abuse brought against her husband by two pious mothers may not be lies, and that Fochs may have even worse within him.
Zayas's taut, thoughtful direction and Bruce Steinberg's pointed lighting bring out physically the conflicts in the souls of not only Fochs but his church superior, Bates, played sympathetically—considering the negative light the play casts on the church overall—by Peter McCabe. (McCabe, as it happens, co-produced last year's Lizzie Borden musical, a much different but equally effective psychological nightmare involving murder and mayhem.)
Jessica Pohly too is doubly wrenching as not one but two of the demon's victims, while Matt Huffman makes an effectively pallid, ineffective psychiatrist who never gleans the remotest clue what he's up against: not just real evil, but a powerful, authoritarian church that endeavors to cover the evil up, even to the point of excommunicating uncooperative members. Violence not just physical but gleeful. Worst of all, the very real possibility of evil triumphing.
The play is presented as a long one-act, and its deliberate pace and detailed story leads to a few scenes during the latter part where ennui threatens to sink in. The horrific climax is more than enough to rescue us from any doldrums, though, and to be completely honest, now and then it was a little hard to pry apart the effects of the seating and climate discomforts from those that came from what was happening on stage.
But it was the story, and most of all the graphic intensity of the telling, that left this reviewer shaken as he left the theater. Hard to take, beyond cathartic, Father of Lies provides a disturbing glimpse into the worst depths of human possibility. In that way, it's a little bit beautiful.
Father of Lies plays at PS 122 as part of the Undergroundzero Festival. Final performance July 11.