From Iceland — Shock Value at Face Value

Shock Value at Face Value

Published July 28, 2006

Shock Value at Face Value

Lying on the bright red couch in his living room, Maggi sets down his glass bottle of beer on the coffee table beside him, and stares blankly at a muted Friends episode playing at the edge of the stage. Scratching his greasy unwashed head, he begins to flip through a porno magazine, and you just watch and wait. Maggi is going about his lazy day, naturally, unrushed, and nothing is happening.
And so Penetreitor begins. This updated version of Anthony Neilson’s 1993 play Penetrator, originally set during the first Gulf War, takes the current conflict in Iraq as its larger cultural backdrop, while utilising the gluttonous lifestyle of a pair of twenty-something flatmates as its more immediate context. On the modest stage of the Reykjavík Maritime Museum, Jörundur Ragnarsson, Vignir Rafn Valþórsson and Stefán Hallur Stefánsson test the lines between passion and rage, fantasy and reality and ultimately deliver characters whose crude humour, nostalgic carelessness, and often vulgarly hedonistic tendencies are not only believable but captivating.
Even the one-and-a-half-minute pause due to technical difficulties about half-way through the show, when Stefánsson had to leave the stage, and his character, to offer his technical advice, was somehow entrancing, and the characters emerged from the crisis as natural and engaging as if the lapse had been in the script.
It is then essentially the characters’ refreshing candidness that keeps the play riveting, and the audience at the peak of its concentration. Even as the play begins quietly, it crosses quickly into different, often shocking territory, and the graphic sexual nature of the language, including descriptions of rape, pornography, sodomy and masturbation, often reaches levels of intensity that should, under any other circumstances, be intolerably offensive. Yet, even as tension and the threat of violence continue to grow between the characters, the play never surrenders superficially to its shock value. The play’s main intent, then, is not to shock, but rather to transcend the vulgarity of these moments; at the height of the tension and obscenity, one sees the moment as painful for another reason and the clarity of the characters’ emotions becomes the main point of shock.
Stefánsson plays Stinni, whose unexpected arrival at the dishevelled bachelor-pad serves as the crux of the plot; a recently discharged soldier with manic depressive disorder, Stinni serves both as the play’s antagonist, and, with his climactic catharsis, as its hero. Ragnarsson and Valþórsson play Maggi and Alli, respectively, and capture with near perfection the idiosyncrasies of a confused and juvenile twenty-something lifestyle; all sex, drugs, rock & roll and homoerotic tendencies included. Each of the young actors has taken his character to heart, and their ardour and love of the craft, oozing from their every pore, is perhaps what is most endearing about the production.
All profits from the show are donated to the charity Hugarafl, which supports kids between the ages of 18-20 who battle various mental and rage disorders. Kids from the group helped with the translation of the work from English and their experiences provided inspiration for the actors.

Penetreitor is showing at the Reykjavík Maritime Museum, Grandagörðum 8. For tickets call +354 699 0913 or e-mail

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