“But you do want to talk to them sometime today on your birthday, even if she is Sheriff Cunt-Fuck of Cunt Fuck City?” says Kali to her husband.
Stockholm is a 2007 British hit having its American premiere at Stageworks/Hudson. Stockholm is riveting. It is shocking. The play is a dash of Mamet, a pinch of Ruhl, a sweating of Pinter, a snap of LaBute, sprinklings of Albee, and a zest of de Sade with just a hint of Ives. Set in the immaculate, cutting-edge (literally) kitchen of űber-sophisticated couple Todd (Jason Babinsky in a performance that needs to be seen to be believed) and Kali (Emily Gardner Hall in a performance that demands to be seen), Stockholm is 70 minutes of jaw-dropping, heart-pounding, eye-popping theatrical electuary; the play is marketed for its erotic beauty, but Stockholm is for adults of reasonably sound mind and psyche. It is not first-date fare, though you may want to suggest it to your ex-spouse.
Stockholm’s premise is simple: a (birth)day in the life of the perfect modern couple. What happens is almost literally a mind-fuck. Playwright Bryony Lavery uses frequent third person direct speech to the audience interspersed with the dialogue between Todd and Kali; “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again” would not be out of place in Stockholm, though Todd and Kali rave in third person about seeing Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (yes, the symbolism slaps you in the face, just as Kali will). They anticipate a trip in three days to Stockholm. They put away their groceries. Todd prepares his birthday meal for the couple. Kali gives him a hand job after thrusting him against the stairs to keep his mind off a note his mother left on the “retro-ironic ‘welcome’ mat.” Kali gives him a blow job when the hand job isn’t diverting enough. Kali controls.
Stockholm is far more riveting that just the surface sex—and the couple use all the surfaces they possibly can. The third person commentary is frighteningly alienated, as if the pair were the omniscient neutral observers of their own lives, or God’s view of their imaginative copulations.
And it is that burst of dance, turning mundane home-life activities into gymnastic orgies, which pushes Stockholm deeper into satire of modern life, as if Todd and Kali were caught up in the stylish commercials that show what perfect couples own and how perfect couples move. They possess. Kali does not give hand jobs and blow jobs; she takes sperm. She does not make love; she fucks literally as a blood sport. Choreographer Jennifer Weber infuses Stockholm with stunning dance, matching Stageworks’ artistic director Laura Margolis’s crisp, controlled moments needed to let the psychoses free.
If you know people who avoid theater because it is too often staid, bombastic, boring, museum-safe and distant, send them to Stockholm. You will not want to see it again, but you won’t need to; Stockholm will hold your memory prisoner.