New boxes in the old Attic

Getting trapped at an inept production of Eugene O’Neill can mean a very long journey into night. An evening of one-acts, by contrast, calls to mind Mark Twain’s quip: “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.” The weather ranges from barmy to blustery during the two short plays with which AtticRep Theatre is concluding its fourth season.

Though its title sounds like a translation from French, The Reason of the Insane Ones merely echoes themes and shticks from the French theater of Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Jean Genet. Written and directed by AtticRep’s artistic director, Robert Prestigiacomo, it is set in the bare, white hospital room to which Don (Andy Thornton) and Marc (Joel Settles) are confined. “They say I’m crazy,” says Don, though Marc insists, “I’m more crazy than you are.” Haunted by guilt over his wife’s death, Don cannot bear to be touched, while Marc is afflicted by fears of abandonment. Like Vladimir and Estragon, they parry repetitive quips and enact comedic routines that lack any point or resolution. Though a door allows in an occasional visitor, for the insane ones there is no exit and only an imaginary window.

A nurse, played by Renee Garvens with the prim severity of the institutional tyrant in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, puts in an occasional appearance. Oppressed by her own neuroses, she demonstrates the play’s unremarkable insight that normalcy is not synonymous with sanity. “There is no reason without madness,” Marc scrawls on the door that keeps him warehoused as a lunatic. Don alters it to read: “There is no madness without reason.” Both are of course true, and, while offering no dramatic revelations, The Reason of the Insane Ones is a madcap reminder that life — dour and daft as it may be — is lived only here and now, not beyond the door.

The great — and porous — divide in .us. is not between the crazy and the sane but the living and the dead. A row of benches separates three characters from three others, and the Stage Manager, played by Kyle Gillette, explains that the living characters and the ghosts are continually slipping through the boundary between their separate realms. From the beginning of the play until its end, when he abruptly announces, “We have to stop now,” the Stage Manager speaks directly to the audience, implicating us in .us., a play about shared aspirations, experiences, and regrets in the U.S. It delights in shattering drama’s imaginary fourth wall, most obviously through a large mirror that is wheeled across the stage.

The most notable use of a stage manager in American theater is in Thornton Wilder’s 1938 exercise in meta-theater, Our Town. .us. is meta-meta-theater, a self-conscious reconception of the famous doomed romance between Emily Webb and George Gibbs in Grover’s Corners, in the way that an inventive jazz musician might cover an old standard almost beyond recognition. The play recycles lines from the Wilder play, but also from Gertrude Stein, Bob Dylan, Richard Nixon, and others, creating a hip-hop theater of unsettling sampled snatches. “Thus .us. is not only a play,” explains the Stage Manager. “It’s also a question.” The question, “Who is us?” is posed forcefully, through mime, dance, and monologue. Characters speak into a microphone while a camera projects their images onto a screen. The entire cast watches footage of travel on a highway, occasionally glancing behind to gaze at us watching them watch.

Like the March production of On Love and Marriage, .us. is the collective creation of the AtticRep Theatre ensemble. If a camel, according to the witticism, is a horse created by a committee, .us. is a gaudy dromedary forced to carry all sorts of mismatched baggage on its solitary hump. It is best appreciated not as a plotted, potted drama with a beginning, middle, and end but as a mixed-media collage or as wilder musical variations on themes by Thornton Wilder. •

The Reason of the Insane Ones

Through Jun 27
Attic Theatre, Trinity
(210) 999-8524

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