"Do you really cut into someone's arm during the show?" Dallas-based playwright and performer Brad McEntire hears this question after almost every performance of his kinky solo show Chop. "An uncomfortable number of times, actually," he says.
Since premiering at WaterTower Theatre's Out of the Loop Fringe Festival in 2010, Chop has played at venues and festivals in Phoenix, Santa Fe, San Antonio, Portland, Seattle and New York. November 8-10 McEntire will perform it at the first SoloMania Festival at the Shadowbox Theatre in New Orleans. It's one of only three out-of-town shows chosen for the eight-day, 29-play festival founded by a group of New Orleans solo artists.
Chop features McEntire as a lonely man whose life changes when he's introduced to the subculture of amputation fetishists. The topic -- the clinical name is apotemnophilia, referring to people who are sexually obsessed with amputees or who are compelled to have unnecessary amputations-- draws great interest from two specific slices of the audience, McEntire says.
"The best have been the times I'm approached by sex therapists," says McEntire. "They just start chit-chatting with me after the show. One person had a patient who actually had apotemnophilia. It is a conversation-starter kind of show."
Then there are the fetishists themselves, attracted to Chop by its unique focus on what turns them on. But what they see, says McEntire, isn't exploitation of their macabre sexuality but a dark comedy about a man looking for love.
McEntire explains that his inspiration for Chop began with his feelings of intense isolation during a gig in Hong Kong teaching English to Chinese high schoolers. "I didn't get along with Hong Kong at all. I had a lot of good friends there and became part of the ex-pat community, but I stuck out like a sore thumb and my outlook on the world did not fit there at all. I started writing the play in 2007 while I was in Hong Kong."
Growing up in Carrollton, McEntire, now 38, studied theater and performance art at the College of Santa Fe. After appearing in the New York Fringe Festival in the summer of 2001, he flew back to Dallas on September 10 that year for what he thought would be a short visit. Stuck for two weeks after 9/11, he ended up staying.
He founded Audacity Theatre Lab and started a working and performing partnership with actor-writer Jeff Swearingen (they co-starred the McEntire's comedy Dinosaur and Robot Stop a Train at this year's Festival of Independent Theatres). He also got married and settled into a life of making theater and "hustling jobs" to keep his creative life going. To make ends meet, McEntire teaches college film and theater classes, works with Junior Players and occasionally unloads trucks at the Container Store.
Since 2008, McEntire has written and performed half a dozen plays, with a special interest in solo shows. "Regional theaters started looking at solo performance as a 'thing' with I Am My Own Wife, the Doug Wright play," says McEntire. "One of my credos is that artists should be instigators. With solo shows, you can take control of your whole production, from the idea right down to the moment you're putting pictures in the scrapbook after the performance."
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In May 2014 McEntire will produce Dallas' first all-solo festival at the Margo Jones Theatre at Fair Park (formerly called the Magnolia Lounge). He says he wants the event to "have a fringe feel" but he's handpicking performers and inviting a "really diverse" group of artists to participate. "One of the great things about Dallas is that if you invite out-of-town actors to perform here, they really feel that Texas hospitality. When I leave Texas and go to other places, I start to realize how hospitable we are here," says McEntire.
In New Orleans for Chop, McEntire says he's hoping audiences don't think his play is a freak show. But for real, does he cut into somebody? "I use an axe, or actually just the percussive sound of the axe coming down on a wooden block. But I'm talking about amputation fetishes and a woman's finger falling off, so the description of it makes people's minds go to work. It took me by surprise that some people were afraid of seeing this play. I just think of it as a romance."
Make that a romance on the cutting edge.
Chop plays November 8-10 as part of the SoloMania Festival at the Shadowbox Theatre, 2400 St. Claude Ave., New Orleans For tickets and additional information visit the festival's website.