Last night, Laughing Pig Theatre opened the world premiere of Per by Donald Loftus. The playwright flew in specifically for the occasion, the audience was packed, and the dedicated artists at Laughing Pig carried the moment off with all of the momentousness a world premiere demands.
The artists at Laughing Pig Theatre are unafraid to take chances on controversy. This summer, they brought Abortion Road Trip to the Valley. This weekend and next weekend (September 27 and 28th), Laughing Pig Theatre brings to life the story of a young man named Per who has been locked away in Konradsberg insane asylum. From the moment the first act starts, you know this is something new for our theatre company. It feels fresh and experimental. But despite the fact that Per is something of a different direction for Laughing Pig, nothing about it feels contrived or like it’s trying too hard.
As something of a true crime buff, I walked into the opening night of Per with high expectations and I was not disappointed. And having been fortunate enough to sit in on the auditions for the show, I knew this was going to be something special. Erin Cote’s casting choices during auditions left me with chills that carried into opening night. This is her directorial debut, but you’d never guess with her talent for picking the right actor for each role. Her target audience will come for the true crime and get sucked into the gripping reality that she and her actors have created.
Per’s story makes you question what “truth” actually is. There’s perception and there’s reality, and then there’s the way our perceptions mold our realities. Per (Nathan Smith) lives out his days in the Konradsberg asylum, tormented by the ghosts of his executed mother and his murdered wife. As he unravels the story and comes to terms with his demons, the audience watches, enthralled, as corruption bleeds into the stark white set. Dolores E. Mendoza will send chills rattling down your spine right before the climax of the play. I literally leaned back in my seat and stared at her, mouth ajar, wanting to know the truth.
It’s not all blood curdling screams from Natalie Payan’s Mrs. Arnborg (she also plays the nurse) or devastating looks from Eliana Burns’ Hannah, though. Tony Moschetti brings some unexpected levity to the beginning of Per as the church’s father (he also plays a dual role as Per’s doctor).
Per is a different format than we usually get for a true crime. I digest true crime in all ways: novels, podcasts, T.V. shows… Laughing Pig Theatre’s production of this play proves that different is not a bad thing. Loftus’ story is an interesting take on true crime dialogue. Sure, you’re not getting comic relief that’s intended to distract from the horror, and you’re not getting a new tome to add to your true crime library, but what you’re getting is eighty uninterrupted minutes of terror and suspense. There are no streaming platforms asking if you’re still watching this gruesome story, there are no commercials barging in right at the juiciest parts, and there is no one interrupting your quiet reading time. It’s you and the other audience members, held in thrall by Laughing Pig Theatre’s insanely talented cast and crew (no pun intended).
Alaina is a writer who lives in Phoenix. She is a proud feminist and likes to spend her spare time volunteering with women’s rights organizations, reading voraciously, and spending time with her loved ones.