‘Crimes Against Nature’ a musical saga of love, dysfunction and clowns

“Crime against nature” is an old legal term, loosely defined as any sexual act or behavior that is not considered “natural” and has, in the past, been punishable by law. Now imagine that the two people engaging in such a “crime” are first cousins and, although they don’t know it, also clowns: the taboo factor is over the top.

This is the case in a musical by Laura Campbell , known as Otter, called “Crimes Against Nature: A Love Story” opening at the AllWays Lounge and Theatre on May 17. In this twisted romantic comedy, first-cousin clowns Gaye and Happy Daye are two 15-year-olds in love who develop a co-dependent, dysfunctional relationship.

“I wanted to write a love story about how love makes a fool out of everyone in some way or another. We are all clowns,” Otter said.

In the first act, forced by shame to leave their home, Happy and Gaye go on an adventurous road trip. After train hopping with their conjoined cousins Hump and Dump Daye, they ultimately land in New Orleans.

In Act II the world becomes dark. Happy becomes addicted to Snap, a psychedelic drug taken through the belly button, and becomes completely dependent upon Gaye, who takes care of him despite the suffering it causes her. After an accident with a horse carriage puts Gaye in the hospital, she decides to leave Happy. But since it’s a romantic comedy, the audience can expect a happy ending.

Otter wrote the story years ago while severely ill and delirious with fever, but the themes of the musical are not far from her past experiences.

“My life was that circus. Many people in my family are also addicts, and most of the people I was in relationships with were addicts. What looks like taking care of somebody is often enabling them. What looks like being strong is actually making you sick. What looks like love is often very destructive,” she said.

In hindsight and through sobriety, Otter came to recognize the musical as a reflection on her life. “It looks like a comedy, but it’s really a tragedy about co-dependence,” Otter said.

This is the second production of Otter’s “Crimes Against Nature.” In 2008, Otter and director Dennis Monn staged the musical with an original score by Ratty Scurvics at Otter’s Bywater space, the Backyard Ballroom.

After opening weekend, Otter was hospitalized with internal injuries after a serious car accident, a situation eerily similar to the convalescence of Gaye Day, the character Otter plays. The production continued with another actor taking her place.

“We always wanted to bring it back around,” said Monn, who directs and stars as Happy Daye. The new production also stars Veronica Belletto, Thugsy and Sick the Clown.

With more time, money and a larger space, the production will feature a new set design with two-dimensional Pop Art-inspired wood cutouts by Luke Brechtelsbauer and an updated and newly recorded soundscape and score created by Ratty Scurvics, which ranges from sound effects to sad ballads and rock songs.

Being used from the musical’s first staging are the Ambie award-winning stop-motion animation films created by Thomas Little and Lisa van Wambeck, which ingeniously illustrate scenes of action where the actors leave off.

Monn’s concept for the set is that all the action takes place under a circus tent and is two-dimensional, colorful, big and surreal. “We never interact with the audience, so the audience gets lost in the clown world. I’m really trying to create a moving painting or portrait that’s really bright and fun,” Monn said.

Ratty Scurvics’ score is integral to the production and challenges the idea of a traditional musical. “We’re not just characters who break out into song,” Monn said.

“Ratty has created a soundscape that goes through the whole show. It’s like you’re watching a cartoon. Everything that you could think could have a sound effect is there. So it’s almost like a choreographed ballet where we’re just moving through Ratty’s sounds. The only time there is silence is very intended moments of seriousness,” Monn said.

While “Crimes Against Nature” might initially seem bizarre or outrageous, Otter hopes the audience will relate to the characters and their story. “I want people to be able to laugh at themselves despite how tragic it all is.”