In ‘Venom’ at New Orleans’ Elm Theater, a couple confronts a mystery

Hiding out in a motel room, a newly married interracial couple discovers they don’t know as much about each other as they thought they did in “Venom,” opening Thursday at the Elm Theater, 220 Julia St.

“The show opens with a man holding a butcher knife while wearing his boxer briefs,” said Becca Chapman, who plays the role of newlywed Meadow. “Initially you’re just like: What is going on?”

Born out of a mystery, the show goes on to explore the world of Waffle House and seedy motels.

“I tend to be very picky about what I will work on,” said Pamela Davis-Noland, the director of “Venom.” “I have a hard time doing work I don’t love. But this play? By Page 4 I knew I wanted to direct this play. It’s a great body of work. I love it.”

An original work by Chicago playwright Clint Sheffer, “Venom” is a mix of whodunit, comedy and drama that Davis-Noland says will leave audiences breathless.

“When the audience walks into the theater they will immediately be right in the room with the characters, in an intense, dramatic situation, up close and personal,” Davis-Noland said. “Anyone who wants to be on the edge of their seat will love this show.”

“Venom” touches on issues of race and the way people learn about and relate to one another. Davis-Noland is a veteran of Fringe Festival, which is noted for its experimental and boundary-breaking shows.

“Elm is doing that kind of work,” she said. “I tip my hat to (Elm founder) Garret Prejean for bringing this kind of work to the city. It’s bold, and it’s perfect for New Orleans.”

“What gets me is the story and the world,” Chapman said. “I love that seedy motel world and the people who revolve around it behind closed doors. Everybody in the play’s motel room is just trying to survive. The question becomes who ends up being more loyal to whom when they’re pushed up against the grind?”

Davis-Noland sees the play similarly.

“Naturally as human beings we want to know,” she said. “We always want to know more about people and about people’s lives. The characters are so interesting that I just had to know.”

Aside from its motel room setting, the play also revolves around that most infamous of Southern dining establishments: Waffle House.

“We’ve all been to Waffle House,” Chapman said. “Anyone could be in there. It’s a place where real people just go and be real. I look around at people and just wonder what their story is. It’s a habitat for characters.”

Interesting characters abound in “Venom,” as they do in the work of playwright Clint Sheffer in general.

“I’m in awe of his writing,” Davis-Noland said. “He has characters who have so many layers and depth and it all comes through without being blatant and in your face. You have to stop and think about these characters.”

Besides Chapman, the cast includes Matthew Thompson, Matt Story and the single-name actor Moses.

Davis-Noland promises audience members will spend a long time thinking about “Venom.”

“It’s not the sort of play you can forget about immediately. “A day later, two days later, you’ll stop and say ‘aha!’ at some realization you’ll suddenly have.”

“I can definitely promise three things,” Chapman added. “Profanity, blood and beer.”