The Town of No One by Tariq Hamani, presented by Playsmiths at Teatro LATEA as part of this year’s New York Fringe Festival, has been billed as a “surprising black comedy” but, while it may be “black,” there really is nothing comedic about it. Rather, it is a dark, existentialist, nihilistic work which provides few laughs. But if it is not funny, it certainly is thought-provoking and, on that score alone, it is worth seeing.
The play is set in a somewhat phantasmagorical seaside town which
boasts no laws, no rules, and no religious nor marital institutions. Women procreate but don’t necessarily raise
their own children nor even know their names: Mother May (Mary Catherine
Wilson), the proprietor of the local pub, has borne eleven children but she
never sees and can’t even recall the names of ten of them who she handed off at
birth to be raised by Felice (Iriemimen Oniha).
The only one of her children who she still maintains contact with is
Charlie (Timothy John McDonough) who publishes and hawks a trashy newspaper and
drops into her pub where, at his mother’s insistence, he engages in a game of
“Tick Tock,” the town’s favorite sport, with Mag (Helen McTernan) the town
gravedigger’s spunky daughter. (The game
or sport of Tick Tock consists of two players alternately punching one another
until one is physically unable to continue.
When Mag and Charlie play, it is Mag who prevails.)
Residents of the towns neighboring on “the town of no one”
are followers of the “Religiobook” and, consistent with its teaching, they
ritually toss the bodies of their deceased out to sea, envisioning their souls
arriving at a better place in some afterlife.
That may or may not be so, but so far as their physical bodies go, it
certainly isn’t: their bodies end up bloated and decomposing, only to be fished
out of the sea by the gravedigger, Deadmen (Michael Selkirk) who, with the
reluctant assistance of Mag and occasional help from Bub (Ben Newman), buries
them in “the town of no one.”
The “town of no one” is thus something of a libertarian
dystopia – or, worse yet, a libertarian nightmare. With no laws and no rules, everyone does as
he wishes and communal needs tend to go unanswered. When the school house burns down, for
example, the ineffectual Mayor Monty (Jim Nugent) is reduced to seeking
voluntary contributions from the town’s citizens to rebuild it, but to little
Things begin to change, however, when Harold (James
Parenti), a runaway from another town, arrives on the scene. In rapid succession, he and Mag fall in love,
he is (possibly) seduced by Felice, and Mayor Monty resigns his post. Mag assumes the position of mayor,
promulgates new regulations for the town for the first time and, armed with a
lead pipe, enforces her will on the town’s citizens.
But is the town any better for that? Deadmen ultimately discloses to Mag that
neither he nor she were born in “the town of no one” but that they immigrated
there from some other place after Mag’s mother died in childbirth. It was her mother’s death that made Deadmen
realize that the platitudes he had been fed all his life – that if men engaged
in productive labor and if women fulfilled their biological destinies by
reproducing, all would be well in this world and that, in any case, an even
better world awaits us all after death – were all just so much pap and that he
and Mag would be better off in a town that had no such nonsensical
So what point, exactly, is the playwright, Tariq Hanami,
trying to make? Surely it’s not that an
anarchic town with no rules and no laws, depicted here so distastefully, is
more to be desired than a world in which laws and rules exist. But equally surely, it’s not that rules and
laws imposed by force and a society suffering from religious mystical delusions
is preferable to one that is based on rational considerations and individual freedom.
Perhaps Hanami is simply saying “a
plague on both your houses” – on both the libertarian dystopia that inevitably
would result from a total lack of rules and laws and the totalitarian
monstrosity of a state that would inevitably emerge from the forcible imposition
of rules and laws on an unwilling citizenry coupled with that society’s facile
acceptance of religious platitudes. Or
maybe Hanami is saying that what is really needed is something in between – a
compromise suggestive of the big deal that eluded Barack Obama and John Boehner. In any case, it’s worth thinking about.