Also seen: OH, THE HUMANITY in Houston

Longtime readers of the Current know that I'm often baffled by the programming choices for theater in San Antonio: it's as if the city's artistic directors go out of their way to ignore America's most talked-about playwrights. (I mean, honestly, how many more revivals of Steel Magnolias can any city require? or even survive?)

And such neglect has never been more apparent to me than this past weekend, when I managed to catch a production of Will Eno's OH, THE HUMANITY at Stages Rep in Houston. It's an understatement to say that Will Eno is hot as a playwright: he's already a Pulitzer finalist for his controversial, one-man play THOM PAINE (based on nothing), and his dexterous use of language has solicited comparisons to Albee and Stoppard. Could he possibly live up to the hype?

In a word: yup. Though I'd only read Eno, I already knew he was a master of language and tone -- I just didn't know how he would work as theater. It turns out, he's pretty dazzling. OH, THE HUMANITY, his follow-up to THOM PAINE, is a series of five playlets, sketched mainly as monologues or duologues; the gimmick is that each playlet explores a situation in which speech is normally devoid of meaning. The first playlet -- about a sports coach at a press conference -- is a case-in-point: as we all recognize, every post-season wrap-up on ESPN is couched in the same empty jargon, of 'building seasons' and players' 'hearts,' of aspirations, plans, and optimism. But in Eno's warped world, the coach refuses to play this game, to so speak, with language: instead, he zigs and zags his way through a ten-minute soul-scream of desperation, loneliness, and disquieting profundity. It's like listening to Beckett riff on rugby. And it's wonderful.

The acting and direction are all top-notch (for the record: Philip Lehl, Mikele Johnson, Erik Hellman, Alex Harvey), abetted by a spiffy, surprising set by Kirk Markley. For a 75-minute production, it packs a wallop.

So why isn't a theater in San Antonio producing this guy? Seems simple enough: just a table, two chairs, and the will to program some Will (Eno).

--Thomas Jenkins, Current Theater Critic

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