You’ve got to hand it to Mr. Paduski, one of the extremely twisted characters in Mark Borkowski’s “The Godling,” which is gearing up for its second weekend at the Broken Leg Stage. As portrayed by an impeccably cast Ron Blackwell, who plays the role with the refined politeness of a British butler, the mysterious Paduski has the courtesy to ask the pregnant woman he’s just met if she minds if he smokes.
That’s pretty considerate considering that Paduski gets a kick out of pulling the fingernails off clowns. His refinement is further illustrated by the fact that the pregnant woman, known as Lilly (and played with surly vigor by See Lee), is being forcibly detained behind bars while a hideous fetus grows inside her. But, hey, it never hurts to worry about second-hand smoke, eh?
“The Godling” accomplishes exactly what it wants: It’s a brisk, brief, jolly-good exercise in in-your-face weirdness. It reminds me of a really good (and over-the-top) Rogue Festival show — one of those word-of-mouth darlings that achieves a reputation at a fringe festival by daring to go against the grain.
In a non-festival environment, I’m not sure that the show (which won a San Francisco Fringe best of show award) has quite the same impact. But it’s still a punchy three quarters of an hour. Director Brandey Steiner uses the tiny stage to good effect, carving out an ominous, subterranean feel. Here we meet two bruising characters: Ringmaster X (the normally genteel Jay Parks looking positively ferocious with a shaved head) and his assistant, Zena (Christina Tellifson, all glammed up), who appear to be the twisted owners of a modern-day freak show.
The proceedings turn pretty wild from there, and I won’t spill any more sordid details. Let’s just say that a fair amount of screaming and raucous off-stage sex is involved, and that at one point — as the ringmaster character launches into a side-show announcer mode — Parks’ booming voice actually seemed to rattle my eardrums.
Blackwell is a delight as the creepy torturer, and KP Phagnasay — filling in opening night for Travis Sheridan — brought an eerie physicality to the role of the Clown. Parks and Tellifson come across as a little too actorly in the first part of the play — perhaps that voice boomed a little too assertively — and could probably tone things down a little.
It’s all meant to shock and titillate, and while there’s a teensy bit of pretentiousness at work here — I don’t think “The Godling” is quite as shocking or titillating as the performers might believe — the show does have a nicely unveiled climactic icky moment. And it delves into some interesting themes concerning the idea of “freaks.” In a visual-based culture, we’re more apt to label someone as bizarre who looks strange or has some wild deformities, but what about the “normal”-looking among us who harbor dark souls? This might be a show about circus freaks, but polite Mr. Paduski is the creepiest one of all.