J. D. Salinger draws the axe in a hemicircle around his body, shifts forward, lifts the blade above his head, then lets it smash down. Using a tool like an axe is not about controlling the force—you let the axe do its own work—and all about aim. When the log explodes, the blade crashes through it into the living stump below. Salinger grabs one of the pieces in his heavy hands and replicates the splitting action, wrenching it in two.
In George + Co.’s HOLDEN, directed and written by Anisa George, J. D. Salinger (Bill George) hasn’t published another book since two assassins blamed his The Catcher in the Rye for their own acts of violence. These same two assassins, Hinckley (Scott Sheppard) and Chapman (Jaime Maseda), are doomed to haunt him in his isolated, rural bunker until they help him to publish again.
They are joined by a cipher: Zev, a young man who has never killed, whom Matteo Scammell plays with sneering, energetic scorn, all cynicism and youthful strength.
Idiosyncratic and unpredictable performances flesh out characters designed neither to charm nor to disgust; these are full humans in all their ugliness, and despite their madness, they often seem normal. Salinger is grief, guilt, and PTSD; his war woes are accidentally mocked by the young killers, who play at war games with childish machismo, firing fake guns at one another, taking fake bullets and falling to the ground, wrestling like puppies while Salinger shuffles, afflicted, around his bunker, writing about Jewish bodies stacked like logs.
When Salinger leaves the shack, they are left to their own devices. With crippling shyness, Chapman reveals his poetry to the others; it is jarringly impersonal, about hating people with graphic tees and women with beautiful tits. Scornful Zev is almost as reluctant to expose his own goals. Chapman and Hinkley are trying to help him decide whom he should assassinate—a musician? a politician? a mogul? it depends on what he’s into. Finally, he says that he won’t kill one famous “phony”; he’ll kill at least 70 people, face-to-face, with a gun, to beat the world record. Staring expressionless into his captive audience, he describes the room, the windowless dark room he’ll lure them into, the stadium, the school auditorium, the theater, from which there’s no escape. He acts out the murders.
Hinkley and Chapman can’t understand why he’s with them, sharing their metaphysical torment. Hinkley cries out that Zev has “nothing inside, no compass, no desire.” Before he killed John Lennon, Chapman lectures, “I nailed myself to him like a fucking cross. And you go at it like you’re racking up points in a fucking video game.”
George’s ambition is to link the troubled, disillusioned civilian-assassins of the late 20th century to the opaque, horrific, terroristic mass killers of the early 21st. Zev is dark, ironic, indifferent; Chapman, on the other hand, is sensitive, insecure, almost idealistic. Chapman is past his prime; Zev just moving into it.
Chapman and Hinkley’s horror in response to Zev’s ambition highlights to us how alien this mentality is to us, yet he’s just an evolution, the empty, cynical age’s answer to Chapman’s broken idealism, the millennial assassin. Chapman and Hinkley have been in that bunker a long time, they have studied their own motives, they have picked apart their crimes. Zev is alone, and he’ll commit his crime alone, and he won’t understand himself any better than we do.
Salinger remains outside this action, and it’s impossible to tell if he can see or hear these men. The opposite of Zev, he has little potential left. He is impotent, stunted by other people’s crimes, despite that his hands are the only ones on stage which can grip and swing an axe to smash a body. [FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd.] October 8-17, 2015; fringearts.org.