Red Tape Theatre. By Ewald Palmetshofer. Directed by Seth Bockley. With Amanda Drinkall, Alex Stage, Sarah Grant, Blake Russell, Lona Livingston, John Fenner Mays. 1hr 40mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
There's something rotten in the suburbs of an unnamed European city in Austrian playwright Ewald Palmetshofer's highly stylized 2007 work, receiving its English-language premiere in Seth Bockley's intriguing Red Tape Theatre production. The specter of the undiscover'd country after life hangs over the proceedings as siblings Mani (Alex Stage) and Dani (Amanda Drinkall) return home from the city for their grandmother's 95th birthday and end up attending the funeral of a recently deceased friend.
It's there they encounter Oli (Blake Russell) and Bine (Sarah Grant), who served as potential love interests for Dani and Mani respectively long ago but are now rather smugly married to each other. Meanwhile the siblings' mother, Caro (Lona Livingston), is beginning to obsess over her own mother's refusal to die already, while their father, Kurt (John Fenner Mays), is distracted by death in a different way.
I'm nearly the same age as Palmetshofer, who was born in Linz in 1978, meaning we were both facing down turning 30 when hamlet is dead. premiered. Mani also makes reference to turning 30 in a bleakly amusing monologue about the size of his studio apartment (which Stage delivers with just the right amount of self-delusion), and I found something relatable if perhaps not universal in reaching that age, being unsure of your choices and encountering old friends—old What Might Have Beens, really—who seem to revel in having their shit together better than you.
Yet that's just one takeaway from a script that, at least in Neil Blackadder's English translation, is weighted down with words, words, words: repetitive riffs on happiness as an economic function, jerking off as an act of hope and a recurring leitmotif of changing axes—X vs. Y, lengthwise vs. breadthwise. It can feel more than a little impenetrable, particularly in the first half, but picks up a jolt of energy midway through that carries to the end.
Bockley's striking staging makes full use of the basketball-court length (or is that breadth?) of Red Tape's church gymnasium space, which the company reports it will sadly be losing after this production as the church goes in another direction. Seating the audience at one end and outfitting the full depth in matte black and flourescent tube lighting, Bockley and his cast achieve an evocative blend of naturalism and heightened movement.