An attractive young couple commit the egregious crime of being happy in Werner Schwab’s gleefully offensive 1991 comedy. Their sin—silently enjoying each other’s company in a bar, mostly—invokes the ire of the sexually frustrated, hapless, violent perverts who litter the local alehouse. Given something to claw at besides each other for once, the drunkards bond over their mutual jealousy and philosophize ways to close the pleasure gap. Think Heiner Müller guest-writing an episode of Cheers.
Trap Door’s excellently cast North American premiere, directed by Steppenwolf ensemble member Yasen Peyankov, drips with the sort of European-style comedic nihilism that a play originally published in a collection titled The Feces Dramas calls for. The ensemble, which includes H.B. Ward as a misogynistic brute and Carolyn Hoerdemann as the village hooch, is unrestrained and delightfully over-the-top. Translated from German by Michael Mitchell, Schwab’s play benefits from Peyankov’s knowledge of how to toe the line between confrontational action and engaging ideas, so much so that watching a person get gnawed to death can be both grin-inducing and intellectually stimulating. It’s a refreshing and provocative example of capital-T theater: politically aggressive, razor sharp and thoroughly entertaining.