Monday, March 14, 2011

Off Off Broadway: The Killing Room

In 2009, One Year Lease Company commissioned Daniel Keene, a highly regarded Australian playwright, to write an original play inspired by the Greek myth of Atreus and Thyestes and The Killing Room is the result. In Greek mythology, Tantalus hosted a dinner for the gods and cooked his son, Pelops, into the feast. The gods were so angered that they condemned Tantalus to an eternity of suffering and restored Pelops to life. Pelops then fathered twin sons, Atreus and Thyestes, who, subsequent to the death of their father, killed their half-brother who had been made heir to Pelops’ throne, agreeing to share the ancestral kingdom between them. But it was not to be. Atreus and Thyestes were quickly at each other’s throats: first Thyestes had an affair with Atreus’ wife, then Atreus banned Thyestes from the kingdom and, finally, Atreus concocted a plan similar to that of Tantalus: he prepared a feast for Thyestes into which he cooked Thyestes’ sons.

Keene’s take on all this was to write a play about the end of the world in which twin brothers, Cy (Christopher Baker) and Ed (David Deblinger), ancient, shrunken and constantly bickering, sustain their existence through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Having been responsible for the near total destruction of the world in their insatiable thirst for power in their youth, the brothers now are the only ones remaining alive on Earth – other than the doctor and nurse who care for them, their wives, and their two children.

On February 26, I posted a generally negative review of Nursing, the third play in Adam Rapp’s The Hallway Trilogy, despite my recognition of Rapp’s literary skill and the underlying talents of that play’s performers. My reaction to One Year Lease Theater Company’s production of The Killing Room, now playing at Teatro Circulo on East 4th Street, is similar.

Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Eugene Ionesco have had considerable influence upon Keene and there are occasional moments in The Killing Room when one imagines that Keene may prove to be a worthy successor to them. Indeed, one might argue that, as an addition to the absurdist canon, The Killing Room is well written, even if it is obscure, nihilistic and ambiguous because, after all, aren’t obscurantism, nihilism and ambiguity the very essence of the Theatre of the Absurd?

Sorry, but I can’t buy that. In The Killing Room, Keene seems to be more derivative and imitative of Beckett, Pinter and Ionesco than simply influenced by them, this work being more a caricature of their plays than a worthy addition to the absurdist canon. And it is a fundamentally distasteful work. (To his credit, Keene at least didn’t feel it necessary to resort to gross scatological scenes, gratuitous nudity and irrelevant sexual situations in relating his tale [as Rapp did in Nursing], but that really is damning with faint praise.) As a whole, the play still is disgusting, bloody and gross, with inadequate literary justification for being so, and its ambiguities, particularly in regard to the play’s ending (when one really has absolutely no idea of what is happening) is insulting to the audience’s intelligence.

Having said all that, given the play as it was written, the director, Nick Flint, did as good a job as anyone might have expected and, similarly, the actors – particularly Baker, Deblinger and Babis Gousias as the Doctor – performed admirably in the roles written for them. But to what avail? It still all represented, in my opinion, a considerable waste of theatrical talent.

It is evident, even after seeing this play, that One Year Lease Theater Company is an intelligent, well-intentioned, ambitious and talented troupe and I look forward to seeing their next production – but with high hopes that the company will select a more promising vehicle through which to display its talents and that it will change course in a more tasteful direction.

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