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A CurtainUp Review
OH, THE HUMANITY and other exclamations
By Elyse Sommer
To further underscore the playwright's attention to naming nuances, the title tag line was changed just days before the official opening from and other good intentions to and other exclamations.. I'm not really sure if that word change makes the connection between these mini-plays clearer and less ambiguous. But it's always rewarding to see the work of a writer to whom every word and punctuation mark matters, as they obviously do to Eno.
Like the Flu Season and the Pulitzer nominated Thom Pain, Oh, the Humanity! is well suited to this playwright's distinctive style and dialogue that brims with dark humor, vivid imagery, and oh so much humanity! As with his previous plays, Eno is once again fortunate to have his work produced in a hospitable setting. Jim Simpson's fast-paced but leisurely staging gives a substantial feel to these fragmentary stories.
Marisa Tomei's and Brian Hutchison's sensitive interpretation of the various characters strengthens the thematic connection between the playlets. Like the people you know or pass on the street, or sit next to on the bus, the men and women they portray are all different, but not really — since they, like all of us, must journey through life's unanticipated twists and turns.
The stories begin with a coach with his personal and career future in limbo after a devastating season of losses, a tragedy that seems minor in the face of the plane crash that's the subject of another story. Sandwiched in between these minor and major tragedies, we have two singles seeking to escape their loneliness through a matchmaking service. A photographer preparing a presentation about a Spanish War photograph addresses the endless circle of grief caused by this and other wars and a couple on their way to a church service round out the cradle to grave look at the human condition.
As with any assemblage like this, some pieces are more memorable than others. In this case, Brian Hutchison's opening solo, Behold the Coach, In a Blazer Uninsured, starts things off on a very high note. Hutchison is wonderfully wry and wistful as the coach besieged by reporters' questions as to his future ability to lead his team at press conference. His explanations turn to "exclamations" that ramble amusingly from one memory to another and even include a bit of poetry about his messed up love affair:
My love is like a sunset, stunning, and then over.
And in the year since her, there has not been
A single thing but ashes and formalities.
A year of cigarette butts and minor car crashes.
The acting pleasures double up when Marisa Tomei joins Hutchison. Their first collaboration, Ladies and Gentflemen, the Rain, crosscuts between two monologues that represent each one's video recording for a dating service. The stools on which they sit are near each other, but yet at a distance that may or may not be bridged by the video. The often poetic and dovetailing yearnings make one hope that the video will indeed fulfill its purpose since it seems that she would appreciate his "I don't have any patience for things that take a long time. Although, it should be said, I'm usually very deeply just waiting. Bugs fly in my mouth sometimes, because I'm just standing there, full of want, full of open-mouthed wonder. I stay like that long enough to give them time to fly out." He's also likely to share her want "to feel home for once. Together with someone in the regular world, in traffic and grocery stores, but also in another little world of our own devisement."
This gentle piece is greatly enhanced by the way the "Lady" and "Gentleman" never look at each other and never acknowledge the presence of the other on stage, even though their words seem almost like a conversation. It's a bit like a condensed version of Brian Friel's The Faithhealer.
The third installment, Enter the Spokeswoman, Gently, is a solo for Tomei that moves into darker territory. It finds her, like Hutchison's coach, at a microphone facing a crowd of people whose relatives perished in a plane crash. Tomei ably handles the helplessness of the spokesperson whose training in Hospitality Management never prepared her for the situation she is now facing. Like the Coach she too digresses into all manner of personal revelations that showcase Eno's extraordinary ability to get inside the heads and hearts of ordinary people.
The penultimate piece, The Bully Composition, has actually been previously staged as part of a Naked Angels production of war-related plays, all with different actors and directors. While the Flea's more unifying approach improves on this concept, this is a bit too much of a clever conceit. It's most memorable observation is the photographer's comment that "war is not hell, it's not organized enough to be."
The title and final play has some lovely writing (if Eno wasn't a playwright, he could easily be an outstanding essayist). This abstract windup doesn't quite fit into the total picture. It also introduces a third character, known only as Man #2 (played by one of the Flea's appentice actors, Drew Hildebrand). He answers the woman's "Who are you?" with "It's a little embarrassing. You're probably going to laugh. But, I'm the beauty of things, the majesty of-- I don't know-- the world? The Universe?" He didn't really strike me as a necessary addition, but then again he did make me laugh just a little.
Marisa Tomei's troubled spokesperson for the airline dealing with a catastrophe reminded me of a friend I lost touch with who worked in a similar capacity. And that's probably exactly Eno's intent: to makes us think about people we've known and lost, and sometimes can know only through faded photographs — but with whom we share the human experience of having to deal with the ordinary and extraordinary events of our lives.