Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Survival of the Fittest - The Killer - Play Review

The Killer - Theatre for a New Audience - Brooklyn, NY - ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Eugène Ionesco, Newly Translated by Michael Feingold, Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Runs until June 29th 2014


Famed actor Michael Shannon (Grace, Revolutionary Road, Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire) is known for his intensity in his roles, usually playing the nemesis. Here in Ionesco's The Killer, he's oddly not playing the title character, and instead, Shannon plays Berenger, the hapless everyman hero who accidentally happens upon a utopian town called Radiant City after taking the wrong bus. He's in awe of the beautiful houses, the never-ending blue skies, the beautiful flowers that receive rain from underneath. Everything seems perfect except for the fact that a serial killer has been murdering everyone and the authorities have simply given up catching him and let the killer continue along his ways.


Being an Ionesco play, it is dark, and darkly funny. The absurdity is all veiled political commentary and the absurdity of human's nature, and our willingness to accept a followers position. The Killer is presented in three vastly different acts, with this production, directed by Darko Tresnjak (A Gentlemen's Guide to Love and Murder), following Ionesco's many stage directions and sound effects to great effect, using a mostly bare stage to evoke the utopian world that gets dispelled by a mysterious menacing killer.


When we follow Berenger back to his apartment (in the only literal set) in the depressing real world, we meet Edward, a friend who the audience can easily see is the Grim Reaper, there to seduce Berenger to his world. Against the madness of a busy world (and some hilarious lines spat out by a cleaner played by the always reliable Kristin Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike). When Berenger ultimately meets the Killer in the third act, the two opposing figures creep towards each other on two separate turntables that slowly spins them together until the ultimate match up. Berenger offers up a rant to save himself in what turns into the slowest chase scene ever, staged with incredibly creepy sound effects and in such slow and precise physical movements, that while the build up should work to build up an air of suspense, it instead deflates itself with too much atmosphere and not enough substance in this final act to sustain the act.


While the play loses steam in the final act, Michael Shannon, an unlikely everyman hero, is wonderfully intense but in an unusually hopeful way, and we easily root for his Berenger, who returns into 3 other of Ionesco's plays, and the first two acts breeze by in its mix of satirical absurdity and the intense allusions it manages to create. Robert Stanton as perfectly dry as The Architect of Radiant City, while Paul Sparks is derangedly creepy and yet amusing as Edward.

Ionesco's The Killer is not the easiest play to sit through, and it has an abundance of ideas, particularly pointed in today's world of cell phones and NSA that seem particularly forward thinking for a play written and produced in the late 1950s, but when it mostly works, with a commanding lead in Shannon, it can be quite absorbing and chillingly humorous.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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