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In Performance

In Performance: Gisèle Vienne + Dennis Cooper 2008 Production of JERK

A description of the 2008 production of Jerk by Dennis Cooper and directed by the French Artist, Gisèle Vienne.

Jerk” is an imaginary reconstruction – strange, poetic, funny and somber – of the crimes perpetrated by American serial killer Dean Corll who, with the help of teenagers David Brooks and Wayne Henley, killed more than twenty boys in the state of Texas during the mid-70s.

This show sees David Brooks serving his life sentence. In prison, he learns the art of puppets, which somehow enables him to face up to his responsibility as partner in the crimes. He has written a show that reconstructs the murders committed by Dean Corll, using puppets for all the roles. He performs his show in prison for a class of psychology students from a local university.

Due to the violence and humor of the text, there is an underlying fierceness to the performance. The glove puppet theater is in fact the traditional form used to enact violent illicit subjects. And “Jerk” unabashedly mingles sexuality and violence in the vein of gore aesthetics, thus harking back to the glove puppet repertory.

The text has been staged as a solo for puppeteer, who uses glove puppets and also acts the role of con artist.
The story, however realist it may be, seems to border on unrealism. The play’s apparent realism stems from its linear narration, as well as from its basic true story and from the trickster-puppeteer’s total identification with the fictive character of David Brooks.

“Jerk” merges three plays that were produced in collaboration with the American writer Dennis Cooper: “I Apologize” (2004), “Une belle enfant blonde” (2005) and “Kindertotenlieder” (2007). In these three plays, the links between fantasy and reality are being constantly probed, thereby altering our perception of reality. The more realist “Jerk” puts forth a consistent linear narrative, generating the credibility that undeniably stems from this form. And it is this undeniability that is reexamined by way of our different formal experiences.


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From a novel by  Dennis Cooper

Directed by Gisèle Vienne
Dramaturgy : Dennis Cooper
Original Music : Peter Rehberg and El Mundo Frio of Corrupted
Lights : Patrick Riou
Performed by and created in collaboration with : Jonathan Capdevielle
Recorded voices : Dennis Cooper and Paul P
Stylisme : Stephen O’Malley and Jean-Luc Verna
Puppets : Gisèle Vienne and Dorothéa Vienne Pollak
Make-up : Jean-Luc Verna and Rebecca Flores
Costumes : Dorothéa Vienne Polak, Marino Marchand and Babeth Martin
Ventriloquism teaching : Michel Dejeneffe
Text translation from American to French : Emmelene Landon

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Caden Manson is Editor In Chief and Curator of Contemporary Performance Network and co-founder and artistic director of Big Art Group, a New York City performance company founded in 1999.
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