BWW Review: Wallace Shawn's EVENING AT THE TALK HOUSE Explores Fascism And The Fall Of Theatre
Those who have yet to have their fill of half-price post-Valentine's Day candy will be happy to discover that what looks like crudites when you step into Derek McLane's environmental set for Wallace Shawn's fascinating Evening at the Talk House are actually sugary treats such as marshmallows, Swedish fish and gummy worms.
Arrive early to mingle with cast members in a casual non-alcoholic cocktail setting. The stellar cast includes notable names such as Matthew Broderick, John Epperson, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, Michael Tucker and Shawn himself. And yes, that's Jill Eikenberry coming over with a tray to offer you a glass of brightly-colored sparkling water.
It's a little bit into the future and Eikenberry's character runs what appears to be a private club, The Talk House; a comfy cocktail and supper spot where theatre folk would go to unwind after performances.
Broderick, in a scruffy, literary-type mode, is former playwright Robert, holding a reunion for his pals who worked with him ten years ago on his last stage work, vaguely described as a the story of a king, his children and an independently-minded knight.
Live theatre has fallen out of favor since then, and Robert went on to become head writer for a successful television comedy starring his play's former leading man, Tom (Pine). Ted (Epperson), who composed music for the play, now writes commercial jingles. Wardrobe supervisor Annette (Shear) has turned to working as a private seamstress for the rich and producer Bill (Tucker) has switched to being a talent agent.
Dick (Shawn), who was once a wildly popular TV star, is an unexpected guest. Appearing freshly bruised and bloodied, he explains that he was recently beaten by some friends of his. A warning, for his own safety, that he was getting to a point where he appeared to be crossing a line.
If his explanation isn't clear to the audience at first, eyes begin to open as the conversation turns to the current state of the country, particularly when it comes to a government practice of targeted killings.
Just as unemployed actors today may sign up with a temp agency in order to pay the bills between gigs, artists seeking extra cash now can work temporarily as government killers. For example, the dutifully quiet waitress Jane (excellent work by Annapurna Sriram) reveals surprisingly cold edges when describing the way she once made an income when acting jobs were scarce.
Under Scott Elliott's direction, the 100-minute piece plays out as a 21st Century twisted version of the kind of leftist conversation that once dominated the corners of Greenwich Village's basement bars and coffee houses.
America's 45th president recently expressed the opinion that the theatre should be a safe place, but with so many new plays and musicals addressing political and social issues, even commercial Broadway is becoming more of a rebellious hotbed. In Evening at the Talk House, the danger of live theatre may have been what led to its demise, and the power of populist fascists may have led to the demise of those who would passionately build it up again.