Walking on Eggshells

Humpty Dumpty and Visiting Mr. Green find characters heading for big crack-ups

Two young and gorgeous media-centric couples--Nicole and Max, Spoon and Troy--descend on an expensively renovated barn in upstate New York for a winter week's vacation. Juggling cell phones, laptops and handhelds, they revel in their superiority over the hicks in the sticks. They admit to reading People and watching the Oscars, but, says Max (Steven Walters), "When we do it, it's ironic."

Max is a struggling writer with one New Yorker short story in print. Wife Nicole (Meridith Morton) edits other writers for a big publishing house. Troy (Derek Phillips) is a slick L.A. guy who churns out dumb screenplays and hopes Nicole will option his novel. Actress-girlfriend Spoon (Elise Reynard) contorts into yoga poses and babbles about trying to "realign" by "taking a little break from alcohol."

They are a quartet of obnoxious pretensions. Nibbling edamame, gourmet cheeses and caviar, the couples joke about throwing an orgy in their mountain hideaway. But before any clothes come off, the lights go off in a mysterious power failure. A creepy-humpy caretaker named Nat (Robert Prentiss) shows up with lanterns, candles and a big, sharp axe for cutting firewood. And from there, the play veers off into a rather chatty, post-millennial stopover in the Twilight Zone.

Humpty Dumpty--with Derek Phillips, Meridith Miller and Steven Walters--is all too believable in these days of failing levees and quivering power grids.
Humpty Dumpty--with Derek Phillips, Meridith Miller and Steven Walters--is all too believable in these days of failing levees and quivering power grids.

Details

continues through November 27 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, call 214-828 -0094.

Bogosian forces these characters to explore their own weaknesses when they're cut off from everything familiar. After weeks go by and there are still no phones or lights, they go a little desperate and crazy. They shiver from cold and live on eggs scavenged by Nat from nearby farms (inspiring Nicole to repeat the nursery rhyme referenced in the title). When the foursome considers leaving, Nat hints ominously at bikers, hillbillies and mountain lions just beyond the front door.

When he wrote it, Bogosian must have thought audiences would find the situation pretty far-fetched. He tosses in mentions of Deliverance, Failsafe and Outbreak just for safe measure. But Humpty Dumpty is all too believable in these days of failing levees and quivering power grids. Except in reality, instead of hillbillies or bikers, it would be CNN's Anderson Cooper lurking outside.

The cast makes their terror palpable, taking their time and building tension to a snapping point. Prentiss, always good playing the strangely attractive loner, gives off a sexy vibe as Nat that fires up scenes with the freaked-out Nicole and the cider-chugging Spoon. In that role, Reynard, who'll soon re-team with Walters as the young couple in Classical Acting's Gift of the Magi, makes a staggeringly impressive transition from happy bimbo to shattered soul. Director Matthew Gray achieves some exciting work with a script that goes a bit long tiptoeing toward its final shock.

Gotta say, with cracking shows like Mr. Green and Humpty Dumpty, we've had a great fall.

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