For 31 years, Red Eye Theater has practiced an experimental approach that frequently veers away from linear storytelling. The troupe’s current collaboration, the haunting “will you still love me, tomorrow,” is not so much a standard play as it is a 75-minute piece of performance art. It was conceived and directed by Steve Busa, scripted by Katharine Sherman, and collaboratively manifested by the ensemble.

The concept is inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1931 film, “M,” in which a serial killer of children is loose in Berlin. Red Eye takes on society’s fixation with crime, child murder in particular, and the emotional instability it generates in the individual and society.

Kevin McLaughlin plays M, the apparent murderer, an unobtrusive, seemingly mild-mannered man who blends into the masses of an unnamed present-day city where people are reeling from the deaths of several local children.

Sam Johnson and Jeffrey Wells have choreographed the actors with phantom-like movement. As the townspeople talk about the murders, they regress to feeding uncontrollably on one another’s insecurity. Surrounded by media messages of endless violence, their fear increases into a collective cancer.

Sherman uses stream-of-consciousness references to long-past and recent crimes to form a paranoid fantasy spoken by the actors: Megan’s Law, Amber Alerts, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Jacob’s Law, JonBenét Ramsey, Sandy Hook. Slogans such as “It’s 11 o’clock, where are your children?” grim allusions to Red Riding Hood and fear-mongering visions of kids walking in packs, reinforce the mood.

As sanity disintegrates, the citizens suspect one another. Delusional accounts involving apes and statues add to the macabre. There are striking stage images of actors as corpses, around whom lines are drawn. Red flowers are ritualistically scattered as in a mournful vigil.

Sound composer Matt Larson, reminiscent of the Oedipus story’s blind prophet Tiresias, wears sunglasses and intuits who the killer is, while operating the sound system on stage. Ryan Colbert brings balletic bounce to the newsboy whose early vibrancy shifts to anxiety as the news worsens. Katie Kaufmann sits at one point expounding on her fears as multiple emotions flicker across her face. Miriam Must and Mark Benzel exude a state of unfolding paranoia.

Slicing slowly through the action at odd points is the fluid McLaughlin. He whistles a Grieg symphony and dances vaudevillian style singing a Beatles tune, disturbingly at ease amid hysteria. Liz Josheff’s urban settings projections, Larson’s eerie soundscape and Paola Rodriguez’s almost too-dim lighting add effectively to this bleakly atmospheric piece.

 

John Townsend is a Minneapolis writer.