Theater! Theatre! 3430 SE Belmont, 306-0870, Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm, through April 2, $13-15
Theatre Vertigo's production of David Lindsay-Abaire's A Devil Inside opens innocuously enough: Gene Slater is an average college student, living at home, being kind of a dick to his mom. On the morning of his 21st birthday, as he's rushing to get to school on time, his mother presents him with a gift: the pickled feet of his dead father. It's the beginning of a hilarious, tragic sequence of events culminating in a bloodbath worthy of Sophocles.
The convoluted plot goes something like this: Gene's mother charges him with the unwelcome task of avenging the murder of his father 14 years before--and to do so, Gene must find out who was responsible for his father's murder. His quest involves a homicidal Russian literature professor, a pretty girl with an Anna Karenina complex, an earnest handyman who has hallucinatory conversations with a devil that lives in his eye, and a mountain climber who can't stop eating because she has "consumption." Each person holds some piece of the key to the murderer's identity, and as the truth emerges, so do strange connections between the characters.
The production is fueled by a combination of pathos, black humor, and blood. Lots of blood. The brilliance lies in the fact that sometimes, the blood isn't that funny; these improbable, outlandish characters are so fully realized by Theatre Vertigo's talented cast that it hurts a little to see them get hurt. The high-energy ensemble ably rises to the challenge of the text, avoiding easy laughs and cheap emotional punches, instead developing a production in which tragic and comic elements reinforce one another. When the consumptive Lily stumbles onstage with blood on her mouth and shirt, and states, deadpan, "I've thrown up all this blood. I think there's something wrong with me," it's both maliciously funny and kind of disturbing. There are also plenty of pee-your-pants, not-as-disturbing funny moments, most notably almost every time the fabulous Keith Cable (playing the crazy handyman) opens his mouth.