For a glimpse into the up- and downside of Zen-like passivity, check out Alive Theatre's production of Eugene Ionesco's "A Hell of a Mess or Oh, What a Bloody Circus." Directed by Mike Dias, this weird, often disorienting dramedy suggests that non-reaction might work as a defensive tactic against bureaucratic palaver and gone-awry office romances but it confirms that it utterly fails as life-long strategy of personal conduct.
In the play's first act, the bobbing like a buoy Character (Aaron Van Geem) has just inherited a large sum of money. With this windfall he can retire from an office job he's held for fifteen years. To celebrate his last day at work, his colleagues take him out for a boozy lunch. Fortified with prodigious amounts of liquor (aka truth serum) they no longer talk behind his back but instead reveal their spite to his face. With dreamy indifference he faces down the vitriol and jealousy of his Boss (Jasper Oliver), his old girlfriend, Lucienne (Kyla Druckman), her husband Pierre Ramboul (Anthony Cretera), and his so-called chum, Jacques Dupont (Jerry James). Because he doesn't talk much, we think that the Character is wise beyond his years. It turns out he's not.
In the second act, the Character (more animated, now) has ensconced himself in a new apartment, which serves as an epicenter for further drama. Whereas his former colleagues were drab and petty, his new neighbors are, to say the least, eccentric. Woman with the Dog (Danielle Dauphinee) swooshes in like a cross between an elderly Carol Channing and a young Paris Hilton. The Russian Man (Chris Batstone) prattles on like a pre-Bolshevik Woody Allen. Both neighbors warn the Character about the Concierge (Sarah Brooks) whose only quirk appears to be the relative normalcy with which she brings him his meals. In a café, he meets and subsequently embarks upon an unlikely affair with Agnes (Shawn Katherine Kane). After a bloody revolution breaks out (where did that come from?), Agnes departs and the play's time frame suddenly accelerates. Thirty years on, his aging concierge died, her daughter replaces her. Agnes as well as the spawn of his former colleagues and revolutionaries visits him. Having learned nothing in the course of his life, he withers in his armchair. With a too-late "I get it!" laugh, he implodes in the center of the stage, a victim of the passivity with which he had managed to hold the world at bay.
Dias's direction endears us to the Character's tempest in a teapot blather. He resists the temptation to turn his lead into a caricature, choosing instead to arc the Character the way Cervantes cast Don Quixote: funny, imbued with absurd magic at the beginning and then, as the decades whisk by, submerged in a vortex of existential nullity. The play, despite its mood of sustained sitcom hilarity, leaves us with a sense of wasted opportunity, indecorous aging, and irrefutable regret.
Performances are 8 PM, Fri. & Sat. The show runs until May 8. Tickets are $15-18. The venue is located at 3838 Atlantic Avenue. For more info call 818-7364 or visit www.alivetheatre.org.