“House of Gold” takes JonBenét story over the top

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Joanne Ostrow

How dare a theater com­pany, even an ex­per­i­men­tal theater com­pany, mount an in­ten­tion­ally un­nerv­ing pro­duc­tion about JonBenét Ramsey in Boul­der? Is there any­thing about the un­solved mur­der that hasn’t al­ready been said? Any­thing about sex­u­al­ized lit­tle-girl beauty pageants that hasn’t al­ready been ex­am­ined and par­o­died? Is noth­ing sa­cred? Clearly, no, noth­ing.

But they’ve pulled it off. With “House of Gold,” play­wright Gre­gory S. Moss has an­tic­i­pated the au­di­ence’s re­vul­sion and pre­con­cep­tions — and taken it all over the top. Square Prod­uct The­atre and direc­tor Glea­son Bauer make the bizarre piece oddly rel­e­vant.

Moss’ dis­turb­ing “House of Gold” has been around since 2010 but was

never be­fore per­formed at JonBenét’s real-life ground zero. The story is pre­sented as an al­le­gory about child­hood trauma, white priv­i­lege and celebrity. Knowl­edge of the ac­tual case gets in the way at times, en­cour­ag­ing the au­di­ence to fill in de­tails where the play is bet­ter viewed as an ab­sur­dist tragi­com­edy.

Sure, we ex­pected a por­trayal of a de­ranged mother liv­ing vi­car­i­ously through her beau­ti­ful sixyear-old daugh­ter. We weren’t sur­prised by the de­pic­tion of that mother writ­ing crazy ran­som notes. But among the things we didn’t see com­ing were the Greek cho­rus of sculpted young men in gold lamé trunks, rep­re­sent­ing white priv­i­lege. Or the con­ver­sa­tion between JonBenét and the coro­ner/ de­tec­tive dur­ing her au­topsy.

Many of the well-known as­pects of the case are never ref­er­enced, and it’s just as well. This is an evoca­tive piece of per­for­mance art, not a doc­u­men­tary, of which there have been too many al­ready. There are a cou­ple of knocks on Boul­der, how­ever, which land well.

The open­ing im­age, the Man (An­drew Hors­ford) at break­fast read­ing a tabloid pa­per with JonBenét on the cover, sets the tone. We re­main mes­mer­ized by the hor­rific story; she is with us still. Any­one who lived through the mur­der and me­dia sen­sa­tion that fol­lowed would be for­given for want­ing to steer clear of one more ex­ploita­tive riff on the wealthy fam­ily’s tragedy. But there is enough thought­ful com­men­tary here to el­e­vate the pro­ceed­ings, enough in­trigu­ing ex­per­i­men­tal de­vices (in­clud­ing live video pro­jec­tions) to make for a com­pelling pro­duc­tion.

Smart cast­ing helps. Emily K. Har­ri­son is fas­ci­nat­ing as the ob­jec­ti­fied JonBenét, em­body­ing the 6-

HOUSE OF GOLD ★★★

By Gre­gory S. Moss. Di­rected and de­signed by Glea­son Bauer, pro­duced by Emily K. Har­ri­son. With Har­ri­son, An­drew Hors­ford, Michelle Moore, Alexis Coo­ley. Pre­sented by Square Prod­uct The­atre through Aug. 12 in the AT­LAS Black Box Theater in the Roser AT­LAS Cen­ter on the Univer­sity of Colorado Boul­der cam­pus. Tick­ets at square­pro­ductthe­atre.org

year-old’s in­no­cence and antsy en­ergy along with her rote need to be de­sir­able to grownups. When she con­fesses to bed-wet­ting, she grabs your heart no less vis­cer­ally than the coro­ner does dur­ing the au­topsy.

Michelle Moore as her mother, iden­ti­fied sim­ply as the Woman, de­picts the for­mer beauty queen’s ob­ses­sion with pageantry and with mak­ing other house­wives jeal­ous. She is liv­ing vi­car­i­ously through her daugh­ter’s ex­pe­ri­ence — and flaw­less young white skin — and Moore gives her hu­man­ity while play­ing her as sadly un­hinged.

Race plays a tricky part, not least in the cast­ing of a woman to play Jasper, the white boy who thinks he’s black. All sorts of stereo­types shake loose as Alexis Coo­ley por­trays the box­ing, Afro-wear­ing, Muhammed Ali — and Richard Pryor-wor­ship­ping boy. Jasper is bul­lied by the chis­eled white guys, has a crush on JonBenét and serves as a comic foil all at the same time.

Andy Ser­a­cuse is ef­fec­tively creepy as the ped­erast Joe, who beck­ons JonBenét into his play-world.

The 90-minute one-act play is a sur­real ride that’s sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive and even pro­found at times, find­ing more in the story than mere tit­il­la­tion.

Michael Ens­minger, Pro­vided by Square Prod­uct The­atre,

Emily K. Har­ri­son (JonBenet Ramsey), Michelle Moore (Woman) in the re­gional pre­miere of Gre­gory S. Moss' "House of Gold."

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