They Are Dying Out at Trap Door Theatre | Theater review

Ad execs literally step on one another on their way up the ladder to nowhere in Peter Handke’s hypnotic dismantling of corporate emptiness.

Photograph: Michal JanickiThey Are Dying Out at Trap Door Theatre

If Sartre worked at Sterling Cooper, this might be the result. High style and dry wit form a devastating merger in Trap Door’s production of Peter Handke’s 1973 play. Director Max Truax gives us eight expert players with striking faces and voices whose laments about the spiritual costs of doing business are a hypnotic Gregorian chant. “Advertising is the only materialistic poetry,” says executive Paula Tax (Kasey Foster), brandishing a riding crop. Handke is known for playing with the fourth wall; set designer Mike Mroch and lighting designer Eric Van Tassell create an elegant abattoir with the other three.

Executives converge and disperse, scheme and break down, during an important meeting that’s really a showcase for each character’s existential unease. Even that nakedness—literal nakedness when the actors are half-clad—is soaked in cynicism and anomie. In a brutally controlled performance, Kevin Cox as bullying boss Hermann Quitt revels as his subordinates (including standout Antonio Brunetti, a sycophantic Pan) debase themselves and jockey for position.

Corporate gamesmanship and inane jingles (scraps of which we hear throughout the play, along with a “civilized” classical score) are equally empty. Against the ballet of ego, violence and vulnerability, the capitalist machine grinds on. In Handke’s vision and Truax’s deft execution, consumerism itself is brutal overkill.

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