Exclamations? That's pretty much the one thing you're guaranteed not to find in a Will Eno play, and that's why, despite the elegiac musings of an "endless gorgeous gorgeous endless" playwright, Oh, The Humanity comes across as so light. These five wry plays dance around abandonment, death, and other such forms of loss, but speaks only from a helpless, hopeless place.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Will Eno's an excellent solipsist, and that helps him to be a great monologist, a writer of such specific dialog that he can trick the audience into soul-searching his every word. With Thom Pain, he found a droll enough actor in James Urbaniak that we wanted to drown in his reflexive thoughts and engage with his double-talk; but his new collection of short plays, Oh, The Humanity (and other exclamations) eschews specificity of thought for grasping meditations on mortality, and while Brian Hutchison and Marisa Tomei are able to tone themselves down, for them, it seems reductive. Worse still, the five short plays that make up the show are redundancies of each other, starting with the excellently fresh "Behold The Coach, In a Blazer, Uninsured," and ending with the dismal "Oh, The Humanity," in which the characters dismiss the artifice of the stage as a cruel reflection of life ("And these are chairs. And that's it. And I don't know who I am.") but offer nothing in return.
While Oh, The Humanity seems a bit like laziness on the writer's part, I will say this: he's good at his shtick: "Don't speak your mind," says Coach, "and certainly never your heart." With these two useful dramatic narratives out of the way, Eno divulges information through the language itself, like David Foster Wallace, who calls himself, at times, a meta-belletrist. That's an accurate genre for Eno, who turns cadences into heartbeats. For instance, Coach frequently doubles himself (not pleonastically, as he thinks, for the excess of words are necessary to punctuate his doubt): "grown in-grown," "I don't know. In general. And, in particular, in particular," or "An endless gorgeous gorgeous endless loss. Which now is now over. And we have how many more left left to us to lose?" And yet, we are too often being told that this is a pitiable man; very rarely do we actually see it or actually feel it. The poem he reads ("My love is like a sunset, stunning, and then over,") reeks of a pretension that doesn't fit the coach, and even he aches for "a gentle little rhymey poem for the old boy with the clipboard and whistle."
From here, it's more of the same: "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rain" has a Lady and Gentleman overconfessing to the camera ("I am not, as I look around myself, currently bleeding"), getting laughs and sympathy from their eccentricities, not their actual characters, and in "Enter the Spokeswoman, Gently," a cry for help is politely phrased under the diplomatically removed commentary on an airline crash ("Gravity, we trust, was a factor"), and our unshakable hero looks for hope in the little things. (She doubles herself as well: "This was, by the way, an experienced experienced crew.") Even "The Bully Composition" is partly muted by Eno's style, although here the photographer and his assistant are at least being more direct, calling for us to be "more mortal, as much as you can stand," so that their own professionalism is at least an opportunity for us to feel, for us to make some discovery about ourselves. But Eno doesn't follow the same guidelines he sets out for us: "We should try and learn to look at each other harder," he says, but never actually looks at us for we are secondary to what he has already decided to exclaim. That's why the final piece, "Oh, The Humanity," comes as a real irritant: Eno acknowledges the space, acknowledges the audience, and then dismisses it. He's busy conjuring up a mystery, the one caused by "the relations . . . not between things."
So far as an evening at the theater goes, Oh, The Humanity is a pretty artificial one, and if it manages to peer for a moment into our souls, that's only because it speaks so eloquently about the things that we don't know how to say (even though this would never be the way we'd say them). We get Eno's delightful pleonasms, but like Coach, we want a gentle rhymey poem.
The Flea (41 White Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $60.00
Performances (through 12/22): Tues. - Sun. @ 7:00 | Sat. @ 3:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.