Review: ‘Brandywine Theater’ is a funny, psychotic romp — villainous puppets included

The Murders of Brandywine Theater

The Murders of Brandywine Theater

Mark Oprea

“Brandywine,” the hitch-hiking traveler tells us in the beginning of Larry Longstreth’s latest drama-horror-comedy, “doesn’t exist on a map, it only exists in the imagination.”

“The Murders of Brandywine Theater” premiered at The Kent Stage on Thursday, Oct. 2, and is Longstreth’s second feature-length film to date. Centered on a schizophrenic ventriloquist and his puppet, the film is a quaint, hilarious-yet-shocking portrait of a man who can’t stop “talking to a toy.”

Henry Kosta (Dian Bachar), a lonely 30-something, lives with his estranged mother and her cat, Oscar, in a small-town home. Ever since he was a child, Henry took solace in his homemade puppet Moxxy (voiced by Les Claypool), using the “toy” to voice his inner dissent and protest. At the theater, Henry works as an attendant, with Moxxy often by his side on stage, practicing his routine on break, dealing with bossman O’Doul’s chastising. In one scene, Henry is insulted by O’Doul when he interrupts a practice routine. Moxxy chimes back at the three-and-a-half foot manager, poking fun at his small height. In the end, the puppet always wins.

There are many times when Brandywine Theater feels like a comedy, and we laugh like we would at one of Henry Kosta’s quirky jokes. A murdering puppet fits in easily in the category of dark humor, where Quentin Dupieux’s “Rubber” may also be. Noticing that his mother’s cat Oscar frets Henry, Moxxy plants a shard of broken glass in the cat’s food bowl. The expected happens when Henry comes home from work, and Henry’s mother blames him instead of the doll. Henry starts to call himself insane. “Killing the cat,” he says to Moxxy, “it doesn’t get any crazier than that.” That is, until Moxxy pushes Henry’s mother down the stairs. 

At work at the Brandywine Theater — all filmed inside the local Kent Stage — is where the film’s many contrasts lie. In addition to failing to curse back at O’Doul, Henry is speechless when it comes to asking doe-eyed Mindy (Danielle Lozeau) out on a date, and the film takes numerous detours into romantic territory, often stomped on by O’Doul or by Moxxy’s cruel doubt. Henry knows he needs a hand from his sideman, but detests the thought of it. Henry’s self-loathing is where Bachar shines.

With a film that employs the talents of strong actors, dialogue is sometimes lackluster or deficient. Mindy, as a source of humor and awkwardness, gives us some of the most memorable lines. Bachar plays well with her as the hopeless neurotic, more comfortable talking to his puppet than wooing Lozeau’s character. On a walk home, Henry brings up his problems of having to use Moxxy to confront others, asking her if he’s “broken.” 

“No, Henry,” she says, “Everyone is broken. It’s just that some people are better at pretending than others.” Lozeau, overall, is a calm, leveled balance to the Moxxy/Henry neurosis.

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].