Life sucks, then you die.
If that’s not the very definition of absurd black humor than what is? Hell Meets Henry Halfway makes a production out of this dark dreary thing we like to call life and serves it to us in the most ridiculous manner possible. The Pig Iron theatre Company, directed by Dan Rothenberg bring this bizarrely funny yet semi-schizophrenic work to life at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre . Based on a novel by Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz, Pig Iron Theatre company ” transform the gothic mystery into an orgiastic celebration of nihilism” “Drawing from one of the great novelists of the 20th century and the result is unique, strange, funny and totally compelling”.
The main gist is such: Henry is the secretary to an old, rich and ailing “Prince”. Henry lives in what is presumably the Prince’s mansion, hoping that one day poor, old Princey will keel over and Henry will inherit his wealth. Mya, Henry’s moody (bitch of a) fiance, has also finagled her way into the manison. A mysterious “Ball Boy” also runs in and out of the house. I am guessing he is the younger sibling or relative of Mya or Henry. Mya, being the spoiled, helpless Brat that she is, has hired a tennis instructor to help her improve her game while Henry has called a doctor to examine the sickly Prince. All together this mismatched group proceeds to insult, belittle, humiliate, ignore, scream and loathe one another.
The stage is set with tennis turf on the ground, symmetrical, clean, reminiscent of upward mobility. To the left is a desk, to the right a set of drawers but the hidden jewel in this room is the armoire in the back. I have never seen such a creative and skillful use of an armoire. Throughout the performance it was used as a room, an entrance, a train bunk, the top of a train, a dining table, a bedroom, a tree, a coffin and probably a few more I forgot. It was really quite astounding the amount of things you can make with an armoire!
Anyway, we are greeted by the arrival of the tennis instructor, played by Gabrial Quinn Bauridel. He walks in a fat, sweaty, dirty mess. he is wearing small white shorts, bad shoes and an overall disgusting demeanor. He is arrogant and selfish asking questions like ” is God jealous of me?” all the while loathing his very existence on this earth. IHis nonchalant manner comes across as resntful or even regretful.s he a washed up pro? or just someone looking to make some cash? We aren’t really sure. He seems to care about some things- animals, tennis while blasting the very existence of others. All he does is complain and moan about how much this “shit stain life” sucks. Awesome. I hope the point of his character was to be exasperating because midway through the play I wanted to go up and strangle him.
He then meets his student Mya, played by Sarah Sanford. A more despicable character I have not come across. She bemoans the lack of love and passion in her life, how people don’t understand her, how she is sad and lonely. Obviously, she will be! She is a hateful snake woman. She insults everyone in her path, is terribly mean to her fiance Henry , is bored with life and doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it. She is cruel, insecure, angry and standoffish. Does she lack sex or does she really hate it?
The best ( and most nerve wrenching) scene come from these two characters. They not only insult each other all the time, they try to outdo each other every chance they get. At dinner, they have a contest who can hold their wine glass higher. I mean, really? They are the epitome of immature, childish nincompoops. At one point she asks him if he spent the night jerking off and he replied ” Yes and I wiped it on your birth certficate”. Jesus. They are constantly dropping to the floor in desperation when they dont get their way. Impatient, childish- what more can I say. You kind of cringe watching them.
Although she comes across as completely asexual, Mya and the coach end up having sex in a closet while verbally abusing each other. There is sexual tension amongst their screaming, curse words and overall loathing. (frankly-it was actually kind of gross). After they do the nasty, they resume their sombre poses and humph in each others general direction. At times, the coach reminds me of Bill Murray from Rushmore, just louder. In the end, the each end up on opposite sides of spear, competing who will pull it in the furthest.
Henry (Dito van Reigersberg) , on the other hand, is composed and polite. Even though he is basically scamming the Prince, he doesn’t come across as completely horrible. He only has one outburst when the Prince fires him for his “cruelty”. That means no money for Henry! All those years of hard labor and care gone to waste. Princey , who is actually played by a woman, spits out with venom ” Pity your patience yielded meager returns”. Double ouch!!!
I am not really sure how much the Prince and Henry characters contributed to the play. The sexual hate between Mya and the couch was so strong it petty much over powered anything else that was happening.
And then there is Dr. Hincz ( Steve Cuiffo) , a miserly, dishevelled, snot filled mess of a doctor, full of akward silences, an eerie voice and huge shoes. He cares for the Prince and drinks way too much brandy. And then, Ball boy ( James Sugg) a happy go lucky, silly Marie Catherine Galagher resembling worry free child. He stays in a peaceful slumber on stage during the whole intermission. Now what do I even make of them?
Some notable quotes I jotted down:
“Some people believe in some things, some people believe in nothing”
“Intelligence is a bed of nails”
“time is loves great enemy”
“The evil within mirros the eveil without”
Ongoing throughout the play were bouncing tennis balls and an ongoing soft beat in the background that reminded me of some old horror films, sometimes calm sometimes anticipatory. I am not entirely sure I liked this play. I am generally a fan of dark comedy but perhaps this was too dark for me. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely laughed. The constant barrage of insults, the dead pan faces, the completely silly moments, the akward silences the bored annoyed looks; this was all pretty humurous. I am just not sure it was worth the grueling, headache inducing, shout matches and the overall shock and despair. Still, it was different that anything else I have seen. And as i always say, I’d rather be scared than bored.
and just to make things clear, they all die absurd deaths.
text by Adriano Shaplin, after Possessed
by Witold Gombrowicz
directed by Dan Rothenberg
created & conceived by
PIG IRON THEATRE COMPANY
February 2 – March 1, 2009
@ Woolly Mammoth