By C.J. Hopkins. Dir. John Clancy. With ensemble cast. 59E59 (see Off-Off Broadway).

BAD RECEPTION Calvitto, center, interrupts this program.

BAD RECEPTION Calvitto, center, interrupts this program.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

If the political-advertising principle of equal time were applied to entertainment programming, every game show would be followed by screwmachine/eyecandy. While the game show as a metaphor for the horrors of consumer culture is somewhat overdone, in the hands of C.J. Hopkins the conceit is nothing short of a blistering revelation. The premise is simple: A normal American couple (Bill Coelius, Nancy Walsh) is competing for cash and prizes. What feels like a fairly conventional skit rapidly devolves into a nightmare, as cynical host Bob (Dave Calvitto)—a Mephistopheles with a million-dollar smile—browbeats and humiliates the contestants. He finally dispatches his lovely assistant, Vera (James Cleveland), to club the irate husband with a truncheon. This game is for keeps.

The satire sounds heavy-handed, which it is and isn’t. Hopkins’s body of work owes a huge debt to the absurdists and so manages to blast beyond the merely political or allegorical to the existential. Bits of Godot and No Exit seem present in all his plays. But the cheerful, shallow arrogance of this particular authority figure and the unfathomable impotence of anyone to do anything but play the game seem to speak particularly to our historical moment. The cast is exceptional, but Nancy Walsh, as the audience’s de facto representative, is a knockout: inarticulate, confused, frustrated. The way out of this horrific game is obvious—except, of course, when you’re in it.—Trav S.D.