| MIXED MESSAGES: Jennifer Rowe and Matthew DiBiasio in Oh, the Humanity. |
IMAGE: Matt Montero
On May 6, 1937, the radio reporter Herbert Morrison was an unwilling witness to the explosion of the Hindenberg. In the face of unspeakable tragedy, Morrison kept right on broadcasting, abandoning his newsman’s detachment in a barely coherent stream of emotion. “Ohhhhh! It’s—it’s—it’s the flames,” he shouted. “Oh, the humanity! And all the passengers screaming around here!”
This compilation of five short plays by Will Eno—one of the most hyper-articulate and incomprehensible playwrights working today—draws its name and theme from Morrison’s experience. When faced with a situation that leaves them at a loss for words, his characters must speak anyway: A coach halfheartedly apologizing for abandoning all interest in football after the death of his wife; an airline spokeswoman trying to make sense of a lethal wreck for the cameras; a pair of lonely singles recording blind-date pitch videos; a photographer trying to describe for his models the photo he wants to emulate, but has left at home; a couple on the way to a wedding, or maybe a christening, who realize their car is just two chairs.
It’s a weird show, like everything else Eno’s written, with surreal linguistic twists like no words any person’s ever really spoken, a disorienting blend of cliché and poetry. It’s also very funny. “I’ve been described as ‘the girl next door,’” the woman at the video-dating place says, “by neighbors.” “We have been told so little so far,” says the airline spokeswoman. “Gravity, we trust, was a factor.”
Where Eno is going with all this is anyone’s guess. I found the show uplifting, a strange reassurance that things could be a lot worse than they are. Director Devon Allen has pushed the cast toward a wide-eyed earnestness that is both compelling and absurd. This might get exhausting were the show not exactly one hour long—Eno abruptly snuffs the last scene before the audience, which has been repeatedly made aware that it is also “Audience” to the characters onstage, has much time to get irritated with the tone. Short, entertaining and only as deep as you want it to be, Oh, the Humanity is about as heavy as we can take live theater in late summer (and, at a $10 suggested donation, it won’t eat into your Labor Day beer budget either).
SEE IT: Our Shoes Are Red/The Performance Lab at the Church, 602 NE Prescott St. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes Sept. 12. $10 suggested donation.