By: Isa Goldberg
Entering the soiree at the Signature Center off Broadway, we’re greeted with cocktails (colored water) and some sugary snacks. Indeed, EVENING AT THE TALK HOUSE, written by Wallace Shawn, who also plays Dick, one of the central characters, is a gathering of theater’s most illustrious. We meet Robert (Matthew Broderick), Annette (Claudia Shear), Tom (Larry Pine), Nellie (Jill Eikenberry), and Ted (John Epperson), among others. The occasion is the 10th anniversary of a show they had all worked on, and which had been a flop.
Like the notorious, MOOSE MURDERS, which opened and closed on Broadway on the same night, February 22, 1983, Shawn’s play is a mystery farce. Here the conversation about inexplicable violence evokes images as bizarre as those acted out in that one night of MOOSE MURDERS, where a mummified paraplegic rose from his wheelchair to kick a man dressed as a moose.
Murder and a societal penchant for violence and abuse are the Zeitgeist in Shawn’s dark comedy. Described by one character as “an age of mercy”, the targets of these murders are often the elderly, along with other vulnerable people. Indeed, when the ageing Dick (Wallace Shawn) enters in his pajamas, we notice the bruises on his face from “a short informal battering” by friends – “which he loved”, he says.
Meanwhile, the cast of characters continues to opine about the theater, dismayed by its demise. They discuss politics, focusing on the multitude of elections – at least one every three months. Clearly, the absurdity of violence, and the rash of unexpected deaths, is paired with the demise of the theater. In fact, they talk about a leading politician, who is also a theater producer, for whom Robert (Broderick) and others in the room are currently working. It’s he, we’re told, who has put in place a program for murder.
To confuse matters even more, ample hypocrisy abounds among these friends. Characters express great fondness for one another, then stab them figuratively and sometimes literally in the back. Some of the guests approve of this behavior, while others appear uncertain. “How do we know we’re killing the right people?” one guest asks.
There is no greater clarity to the whys and wherefores of these assassinations than there would be in a remake of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE. One can never be sure who the murderers are, what their motives happen to be, or what side – good or evil – they represent. In fact, the moral compass among these friends is so out of whack that the play becomes a kind of silly tragedy.
“What if everyone just started throwing bombs at one another?” the hostess Nellie (Jill Eikenberry) queries. It’s best not to address her particular fate – lest we kill the surprise – but her query is certainly a timely one for all Americans. In THE TALK HOUSE, to boot, we hear about it with the kind of elitism and snobbery that keeps the proverbial ball rolling.
THE NEW GROUP AT THE PERSHING SQUARE SIGNATURE CENTER
The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre
480 West 42nd StreetJ
January 31, 2017 – March 12, 2017
Tuesday at 7:30pm Wednesday at 7:30pm Thursday at 7:30pm Friday at 7:30pm Saturday at 2pm and 8pm Sunday at 2pm Added performances February 22 at 2pm, February 26 at 7:30pm, March 1 at 2pm, March 8 at 2pm No performance February 21