BWW Review: LOST IN THE COSMOS: THE LAST SELF-HELP SEMINAR at Theatrical Outfit

Photo by Chris Bartelski
Photo by Chris Bartelski

Have you ever worn flip-flops to work? Have you ever lost weight in order to teach an ex a lesson? Do you routinely experience self-loathing as a result of binge-watching The Bachelor? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you might be an excellent candidate for Lost in the Cosmos, the fictional self-help seminar that provides the backdrop for Theatrical Outfit's fairly well-imagined and superbly acted stage adaptation of Walker Percy's satirical self-help book, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book.

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Seminar, adapted for the stage by Tom Key, follows Harold (Dan Triandiflou), a dentist who volunteers to act as a participant in a self-help seminar. Harold, excited about his role in shaping the content of the "last" seminar, jumps in with both feet. But once he encounters challenging thought experiments and pop quizzes that force him to delve into an intense inspection of who he is, he is forced to acknowledge that he may be lost in the cosmos.

Key's play actually poses a number of interesting questions about existence. Even the bulletin boards in the lobby prepare patrons for what lies ahead. While waiting for the show to begin, you can use push-pins to indicate where you weigh in on the big questions like Are we alone in the universe? and Will mankind self-destruct or will life on Earth end organically? But don't call in Sartre or Nietzsche to help you wade through it all. While the play asks some deep questions, it's ultimately an exercise in silliness that won't leave you ruminating any harder than you probably did about how the Falcons managed to lose the Super Bowl with a 21-3 lead at halftime. Don't worry. That doesn't make this any less watchable.

The thing that really makes this production fun to watch is the excellent cast of actors that, under the direction of Dad's Garage artistic director, Kevin Gillese, takes the endearing quirkiness of the script to a whole new level of quirky. Each of the actors showcases laudable versatility as they hilariously role play a diverse catalogue of characters, from porn star to soldier, during the seminar's thought experiments. Dan Triandiflou's impersonation of Dr. Phil is particularly worthy of note.

Ultimately, when you leave the play, you won't have all the answers. You probably won't even know all of the questions. But if you're looking for a diverting afternoon of paddling through pseudo-existential psychobabble that doesn't take itself too seriously, this could be your show.

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Seminar plays at the Balzer Theater at Herren's through February 26.


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