Playwright: David Geiselmann
At: A Red Orchid Theatre
Phone: (312) 943-8722; $10
Runs through: March 30
Even before we learn that our host makes his living doing research on Chaos Theory, this dinner party looks suspicious. For one thing, cohabitants Ralf Droht and Sarah Kenner have decorated their apartment in matte-finish black-on-black. For another, Sara is oddly obsessed with Rope, Alfred Hitchcock's classic body-in-the-trunk thriller. What they don't know, however, is that the couple they've invited over for a game of get-the-guest will bring their own chaos with them. That architect Bastian Mole is only a step away from Losing It and his wife, Edith, not far behind. And that a Bacchanalian blood-frenzy—sparked by the hint that THIS livingroom conceals a murdered corpse—is a tough high to sustain.
It's also a tough suspension-of-disbelief, especially to morally sensitive Yankee audiences with low thresholds of schadenfreude. If the slaughter of the hapless Mr. Kolpert—whether actual or fantasized—is to be rendered even potentially palatable, we must be persuaded that there are some people in this world whose lives serve no purpose except to provide amusement for others, and who are thus expendable. And if this notion is presented too soon, or the presenters grow too quickly repugnant, our horror will not permit us to be drawn into the universe of the play, so that we can be shocked at the extremes to which seemingly-peaceful citizens will go for their kicks.
David Geiselmann's text facilitates this impatience, compounding the hazards inherent in all comedies of this genre. But director Karen Kessler keeps her cast reined in, never allowing the adrenaline to dominate the action. As the volatile Bastian, Lawrence Grimm strikes just the right balance of menace and bluff, contrasting nicely with Ralf's ingenuous passivity, as projected by Michael Shannon (in a rare straight-man role). Jane Baxter Miller's Sarah wears her amorality with a Zelda Fitzgerald delicacy, while Stephanie Childers lends to Edith's Dionysic ecstasy a fury and intensity as terrifying as it is recognizable.
We don't learn enough of these characters in 80 minutes to accurately assess their motives. But whether you leave the theatre puzzled or relieved, you might look at your neighbors a little more closely in the morning.