Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“A Number” – Cygnet Theatre
“Request Programme” – ion theatre
AIRDATE: JUNE 6, 2008
What if one day, your whole life was called into question? Maybe there was a cataclysmic revelation, or perhaps a quiet realization, but ultimately, it means you just can’t go on.
Existential angst drives two challenging and provocative plays, and they suck the viewer into their vortex. Both last only an hour, but they demand quite a bit from the audience – patience and concentration, a willingness to go along without fully understanding until the unfortunate end. Each is unique in style and experimental in structure.
In “Request Programme,” Miss Rasch leads a life of quiet desperation. Every day is the same – lonely and routinized. We see her come home from work to her tiny little flat, fix a Spartan dinner, listen to the radio, lay out her things for tomorrow. She’s obsessively clean and fastidious.
According to German playwright Franz Xavier Kroetz, who penned the piece in the 1970s, this is what police records show: suicides are often quite neat and tidy in their preparations. In his spare solo play, there is no dialogue; except for the musical request show on the radio, we watch in silence as an isolated, marginalized woman goes through her daily, methodical motions. And though she prepares for the next day, she simply can’t face it. At ion theater, Linda Libby lets a full range of emotions play on her face, in a wonderfully meticulous performance, precisely directed by Glenn Paris.
There’s dialogue in “A Number,” a chilling, barely futuristic two-hander. But it’s filled with pauses and cryptic, unfinished sentences. Details unfold slowly, enigmatically, as the lies, delusions and concealments mount up.
Bernard has found out that he’s not distinctive and he’s not alone. He’s a clone, and there are 20 more exactly like him. He confronts his taciturn father, who doles out truths like crumbs on a breadline. Turns out that Dad didn’t get fatherhood quite right the first time, so he wanted to try again, aiming for perfection. It doesn’t work out well for anyone.
Acclaimed English playwright Caryl Churchill doesn’t just have one headline-grabbing idea in mind. In what the London Evening Standard called the best play of 2002, she turns her laser focus on identity, father and sons, communication and nature vs. nurture.
The Cygnet Theatre production, under the direction of Esther Emery, maintains the suspense and electricity of the often-baffling play. Francis Gercke shows versatility in portraying three of the sons, though they could be more sharply distinguished. D.W. Jacobs gives the flawed father a starkly reserved and detached performance, which leaves us wondering exactly what he really thinks or feels.
These plays contemplate people and ideas on the fringe of our conception. They may not be for everyone – but they’re guaranteed to make you squirm – and think.
“Three Days of Rain” runs through June 16 at Compass Theatre (formerly 6th @ Penn).
©2008 PAT LAUNER