The Unrepentant Necrophile taps into the mind of a punk rock necrophiliac
The Coldharts have written a gothic-inspired music-theatre piece about Edgar Allan Poe’s childhood (Edgar Allan) and a moody folk play about a ghostly woman in Kansas (The Legend of White Woman Creek) but for their latest project, they decided to dabble in something that truly scared and repulsed them—necrophilia.
For those who don’t know, necrophilia is a sexual attraction to or initiating in sexual acts with a corpse. Basically, a necrophile is a person who prefers the company and love of the dead, rather than the living.
One particularly well-known necrophile named Karen Greenlee became the direct inspiration for The Coldharts’ (Nick Ryan and Katie Hartman) newest work The Unrepentant Necrophile.
“After being steeped in ghost stories we found ourselves becoming a little desensitized to the genre, so we challenged ourselves to find material that deeply disturbed and intrigued us,” Ryan says. “During that search, Katie came across an interview called “The Unrepentant Necrophile” with a mortician named Karen Greenlee, who in 1978, Sacramento stole a body and …”
“Took it to the mountains and had a journey with it,” Hartman interjects.
Greenlee is considered the best-known practitioner of necrophilia and her 1987 interview with Jim Morton gained particular interest because she was a woman (research at the time indicated nine out of 10 necrophiles weremen). In the interview she gave a detailed account of her time with the body and her aspirations behind the act.
At the time, necrophilia was not illegal in California so Greenlee pleaded guilty and had a $250 fine with 11 days in jail and several hours of public service.
The Coldharts’ story follows the cleverly named Lee, (played by Hartman) a mortician who falls in love with the corpse of a man named John (Nate Gebhard) three days before his funeral. As with all of The Coldharts’ pieces, there is also a musical component.
Lee shreds on a fuzzy guitar and screams punk rock vocals throughout, while Ryan plays a co-worker named Steve who rips on bass guitar. John the corpse also plays drums. That’s right. They somehow found a way for a lifeless body resting on a slab to jam out drum beats.
“Most of the fun of the show is getting an inert dead body to play drums,” Ryan says. “It gets progressively more insane as the show goes on. We’re really laying out the theatricality of music to imply the extreme sexual acts that do occur.”
The idea to have a corpse actually play drums in the show was thought up quite early during The Coldharts intense 21-day writing session.
“We had an image in our minds of a person playing a corpse who was an excellent mover, dancer, or played the drums,” Hartman says. “It was a very specific search, but two months before we started, somebody recommended Nate to us.”
“The first day was getting Nate to show us his drumming. He played maybe two minutes and we were like, ‘Alright we’re building this entire show over you and your drum playing,’” Ryan says.
With lighting tricks and sound the show’s setting transforms from a mortuary, to a desolate Californian road, to a quiet grove in the Redwoods. At times because of the subject matter, it is unbelievably tense.
“When Lee’s alone with the dead body there are moments when it’s really intense. If nothing else you’ve never seen anything like this,” Ryan says.
For Hartman, the play also taps into the mind and the why of Lee along with her struggles.
“Our jumping off point for this show has always been: this is a woman who lives in a world where the only man worth fucking is a dead one,” she says.
Wed., Feb. 14 – Feb. 18
The Unrepentant Necrophile
Backstage Theatre, $22