Darkness encircles three people. Two of them need to talk to you. To explain who they are and what they have done. A third sits beside them at a massive wooden table piled with books and papers. Minds at work. Sometimes the first two talk about the other. Trying less to understand him than to understand what all three of them have done in the deadly, superficially civilized society, in which their lives are constantly menaced.
They are Howard, a complexly intellectual writer, his daughter Judy and Jack, sometimes husband to Judy. Jack is a survivor. Over the course of an hour and a half he dominates the discourse, verbally fumbling and stumbling amid his constantly shifting thoughts and ideas, to understand himself as if from some remove. Justifying his existence, as if he needs to convince us.
This is Wallace Shawn’s remarkable, complex, provocative play The Designated Mourner, superbly alive thanks to Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre Company director Cathy M.W. Kurz and actors John Hatcher, Laura Leininger and Brent Spencer. Hatcher shines brilliantly in the relentless spotlight.
The fascinating sentences, phrases, ellipses, pauses, follow many paths, a maze of ideas from which there may be no exit.
Make no mistake. This play dwells on talk, not action. And the characters rarely discuss profound ideas among themselves. Rather, this becomes an exploration of souls caught up in a place and time where the government efficiently practices random violence on its citizens. Could this be us? Not so far. But any of us could be like Jack if we acquiesce, stand back, rationalize and find ways to squirm ourselves out from under stomping black boots.
Jack speaks of highbrow and lowbrow. As he reveals himself, we see that he has become anti-intellectual, anti-culture and uses his dislike of Howard as a springboard to jump off into the mud. OK, spectator, he’s not you. Of course. But outside this staged microcosm, there are people out there who are like Jack. Some of them wield power and influence. Will you stand aside and let them rule?
Is this Egypt vs The Moslem Brotherhood? Could it be Argentina? Or China under Mao? Russia in its Stalin years? Hitler’s Germany? Africa. South America. Asia. Eastern Europe. Western Europe. Their times are just around history’s corner. Those places are but cyber-seconds away. And who is monitoring your links to them?
Need I comment further on the acting? The directing? The staging? No. The play’s the thing to catch the conscience.
The Designated Mourner runs through May 24 at The Mastercraft Building, Suite 106, 1111 N. 13th Street. Fri. & Sat: 7:30 pm. Thurs.: 7:30 p.m. Sun.: 2:0op.m. Tickets $20-$25. http://www.bsbtheatre.com/