There is a lovely scene, in the middle of Bernard-Marie Koltès' Roberto Zucco, where serial killer Zucco meets an old man in a subway station. The station is locked from the outside, and the nameless grandfather is lost and alone. The two strangers share a bench and talk about youth and aging, desire and loss. Their exchange has a poetic transcendence, and we wonder throughout: Will Zucco slaughter this man, just as he's murdered his own parents? Or is there something about this kind fellow that deserves Zucco's mercy?
If this 10-minute scene were the entire play, we might leave happily. But Phase 3 Productions has picked a very frustrating script, and audience satisfaction seems to be its last concern.
In short, Roberto Zucco is nonsense. Worse, it's pretentious nonsense. Boring nonsense. Nonsense full of foul language, to make it "edgy." Motivations are never explained. The settings are never described. Characters blab monologues about gender roles and authority, but we still know nothing about them.
How can this be? Serial killers and prostitutes are implicitly interesting, yet Koltès has made them unspeakably dull. Director Dek Ingraham can't order the chaos, and while Douglas Baker seems a promising actor, his talents are wasted on a vacuous characterization.
What's more, Roberto Zucco was a real person -- a kidnapper, cop-killer, rapist and carjacker, most active in the late 1980s. Zucco was more than the Ted Bundy of his day; Zucco escaped from prison and raised hell in four different countries. This play was a chance to explain Zucco's origins, to explore his inner life. But Koltès has utterly botched the opportunity, and the play is an overlong, self-important revue of stultifying monologues. Perhaps something is lost in Martin Crimp's translation, but it's hard to imagine that there's any plot or character development in the original French, either.
Phase 3 has a noble mission: to premiere rarely produced plays. And because this season's theme is "violence," Phase 3 has an even nobler partnership. The Center for Victims of Violence and Crime. If Zucco were only tolerable, we might admire the endeavor.
Instead, the audience is asked to sit on rough wooden benches and endure two hours of abstruse melodrama, sans intermission. In the end, a bright floodlight is shone directly in our eyes, the actors don't bow, and the audience must leave in the dark. Phase 3 is a young company, and it's already been forced to migrate from the Brew House to an obscure space Downtown. Must it bully its only supporters? Even Zucco spared his girlfriend.
Roberto Zucco continues through Nov. 22. 121 Seventh St., 6th Floor, Downtown. 888-718-4253 or www.phase3productions.org.