Jan 24-Feb 09, 2020
The Killing Game takes a piercing, frighteningly funny look at the proclivity of a small, previously comfortable community to gossip, paranoia, hypocrisy, and opportunism in the face of crisis
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Ionesco's 'Killing Game' delivers a merry plague at the Black Box Theatre
- Algernon D'Ammassa, Las Cruces Sun News Desert Sage Column
At the end of the play's opening scene, the entire ensemble lays on the floor dead: A death count rivaling Shakespeare at his most violent, and the night had just begun.
Yet what a pleasure it was to see the Black Box Theatre full on the opening night of a Eugene Ionesco revival this weekend - and for one of his more obscure and difficult plays, yet.
The No Strings Theatre Company is greeting the new year with a production of "The Killing Game," a stark-looking suite of mordantly funny scenes about a plague. The play, first produced 50 years ago, somehow feels dated and relevant at the same time, in part because director Marissa Bond and her ensemble approach it without excessive seriousness.
A mysterious plague descends on a city and the result is chaos, panic, paranoia, madness. A germophobic rich man (Josh Taulbee) hides away in his mansion insisting every inch of the house, and even his food, are sprayed with disinfectant. A pair of prisoners (Karen Buerdsell, Vanessa Dabovich) attempting to break out of prison are offered their freedom by a guard (Teddy Aspen-Sanchez) who tells them of the rampaging plague and warns them, "The real prison is outside."
People withdraw from human contact, surmising that plague victims have brought it on themselves because they were unvirtuous or had the wrong politics; some take up arms; scholars look in vain for answers in books, before falling dead on top of them; and political leaders emerge from the rabble, of course, using the scourge as a means to recruit followers, promising that while the plague may never be eliminated, they will change its meaning.
As far as making meaning, the plague can stand in for other fears plaguing (so to speak) our fragile societies: nuclear war, climate disruption, the rise of authoritarian rulers, waves of refugees. In "The Killing Game," the scenes amount to variations on the theme of isolation and dread.
The play may have been written long before the advent of social media, but there are frequent echoes of the vitriol and misinformation "virally" infecting us through our ubiquitous pocket-sized computer-phones.
Ionesco's plays are often described as "theater of the absurd," though he himself described his work as a theater of derision. He recoiled from theater that was serious or didactic, mocked political ideology in art and argued for a theater and literature that were playful. One might describe "The Killing Game" as Monty Python's dying circus.
Bond and her cast of 13 get it just about right. Taken too seriously, the play would easily come off as nihilistic and hopeless; a general audience might feel lost in dialogue loaded with non sequiturs and odd leaps, with no sympathetic or reasonable character to follow.
Here, however, the scenes are played simply and clearly enough, with few props or costume changes, sometimes a tad slowly but at other times brisk, with its frequent scene changes mercifully swift.
Relax, take in the play unseriously and the themes should emerge plainly, as when Buerdsell and Aspen-Sanchez play a scene as an elderly couple still trying late in life to negotiate, before it is too late, how to love one another and why it matters. Never fear, however: Someone dies while they are trying to figure it out.
In the end, as the play's finale reminds us, it is always something. Good night, and good luck.
"The Killing Game" by Eugene Ionesco is at No Strings Theatre Company in downtown Las Cruces through Feb. 9. For showtimes, ticket prices, and reservations, call 575-523-1223 or visit http://no-strings.org/.
Desert Sage enjoys hearing from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.
'The Killing Game' will slay you
- Mike Cook, Las Cruces Bulletin
Is it a government conspiracy? The result of squalor and unhealthy living? God's revenge on the weak and unworthy? Is it a social commentary on the times we live in?
Playwright Eugene Ionesco raises many powerful questions in "The Killing Game," which continues for two more weekends at Black Box Theatre. The characters in this play take themselves very seriously - they are, after all, dropping dead all over the place. But director Marissa Bond and her talented cast and crew, including and especially costumer (Robert "Bobcat" Young, who is also in the cast and is the play's assistant director) and set designer (Joshua Taulbee, another cast member), lighting designer (theatre co-owner Peter Herman) and sound designer (Rafael Medina, who also has a direct link to the show) individually and collectively recognize that they are producing absurdist theatre.
Everything that is said and done, each pistol and necktie, every light change and sound cue, means something, even though the collective whole may mean nothing at all.
It is literally deadly serious and at the same time completely ridiculous.
For example, is it a health professional who sets the terrified characters' minds at ease, or a government or religious leader? No. It's someone quoting statistics. Watching this wonderful play is like looking at a beautiful piece of abstract art. You turn your head: This is so beautiful, but did they hang it the right way? Is this funny or is it terrifying? Should I laugh or gasp?
Answer those questions for yourself when you see this play - and you should go see it. Pay attention to the hangman and the old couple, the anarchist and the prisoners, to the black-and-white costumes and set pieces, and to the red eyes and the purple on the floor and the back
wall and the subtle strains of "What a Wonderful World." Mostly, just sit back and enjoy some quality theatre. In addition to Young and Taulbee, the cast includes Teddy Aspen-Sanchez, Karen Buerdsell, Vanessa Dabovich, Gina DeMondo, Avra Elliot, Cassandra Galban, Erica Krauel, Taylor Landfair, Ed Montes, Joseluis Solorzano and Nancy Sorrells. Kudos to all of them. Each cast member gets to shine his or her individual light at one point during the performance. But it is the collective work of this truly ensemble cast and their insightful director that brings the magic to this production.
"The Killing Game" continues with these performances: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, Feb.
7-8; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 2 and 9; and 7 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 6. Tickets are $15 regular admission, $12 for students and seniors over age 65 and $10 for all seats for the Thursday night, Feb. 6 performance. Black Box Theatre is located at 430 N. Main St. downtown.
For more information and tickets, call 575-5231223 and visit www.no-strings.org
No seating plan has been posted.