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Beate Hein Bennett

“Are We The Last Ones?”

Occasionally Nothing
Natalie Menna

April 28 – May 15, 2022
Presented by Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (betw. 9th & 10th Streets)
Thurs. – Sat. at 8 PM, Sun. at 3 PM
Gen. Adm. $18, students and seniors $15
Box office 212-254-1109; www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett May 7, 2022.

Mike Roche, Sean Hoagland.

A loud boom, a door slams shut, a young guy tumbles onto stage from audience side, from the opposite upstage a bald man rushes in, flops down beneath a huge suspended cross! A madcap staccato dialogue begins with “Sometimes?—Sometimes what?—(Pause)—Nothing.” This continues in a varied configuration of three basic words: Something, Nothing, Sometimes with an occasional “what”, “just”, or “never” thrown in. A rhythmic explosion of verbal punches by two actors ensues like a boxing match. The nonsense begins to make comic sense as the two men pirouette and leap with the words in an antiphonal verbal punk rock combat that gradually builds context. Periodic booms punctuate the scenes in which more context is developed and character relationships are clarified. We find ourselves in an “endgame” of sorts.

Mike Roche, Sean Hoagland (examining a bloody bird that felll from the sky).

The Beckett “Endgame” echoes appear in Ms. Menna’s text several times. The two male character names, Clay and Harry, both British expats and US citizens, vaguely resemble Beckett’s Clov and Hamm. Clay, the young rocker, coming in from the outside responds with uncertainty to Harry’s question “Is anybody still there?” like Clov who reports “nothing” after a look through a small window onto a barren world. Harry, Clay’s uncle is lame and house-bound because of his demented bed-ridden wife Louella, as wheel-chair bound Hamm is tied to his Ma and Pa immobilized in their respective garbage cans. Beckett implies that we exist in a post-nuclear world while Ms. Menna’s play clearly articulates a world in a catastrophic state of affairs, inside and outside, where “nothing” and “something” are in a state of entropy. Robert Greer, the producer writes in a program note: “Ms. Menna wrote “Occasionally Nothing” in 2016-17. The text is being presented unchanged! It is prophetic in its post-apocalyptic genius, its fore-seeing of a pandemic, a catastrophic social breakdown and a cataclysmic war.” In 2016 she set the play in “a near future” where Grumpf rules, Wolf News report, bloody birds fall from the sky, and where the Nothing is Sometimes Something! It is a deadly farce on the killing ground with grim laughter and brief moments of tenderness with vestiges of empathy. The set by Litza Colon is an assortment of emblematic items that satirically suggest major social forces at work: a shredded US flag= worn-out patriotism; a huge cross and church benches=the effect of Christian extremism on the courts; a messy pad on the floor= temporary life; a trunk and a jigsaw puzzle=migrations to fractured places. Billy Little’s costumes are equally satirically emblematic, especially Clay’s t-shirts and Louella’s dresses. Alexander Bartenieff’s Lighting and Andy Evan Cohen’s Sound Design complete the ambiance of a surreal world.

Mike Roche, Sean Hoagland, Holly O'Brien

Ivette Dumeng directed this deceptively simple and funny play very imaginatively in terms of actor movement and placement that support a precisely paced rhythmic delivery of the text by a superb trio of actors. Sean Hoagland as Clay plays the full range of the punk kid, always on edge but also lovable, agile, pivoting from darkly threatening to clownish humor. Mike Roche as the older Harry is a solid counterpoint and foil to Clay’s mercurial personality. The two master the first complicated dialogue sequence like a perfect ping pong match. Holly O’Brien as Harry’s demented and drugged-up wife Louella is hilarious but in her delusions, she displays also the grace and pathos of a has-been musical star—she literally floats through her reality while ironically revealing the fragility of factual reality. The text is a tour de force of precision and being-in-the-moment for the actors—it is really a trio sonata of another kind of “Dance of Death.” At the end a loud explosion! Then silence! Then U2’s song “New Year’s Day” with the line “All is quiet…” is piped in, as we leave the theater to return to our own perplexing life in a perplexed world.

Holly O'Brien



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