It’s a curious phenomena of theater that sometimes we can really enjoy the experience of watching very little occur.
The inanity of most 24-hour news coverage, on the other hand, rarely yields the kind of pleasure induced by Will Eno’s "Tragedy: A Tragedy" – an absurdist satire of live reporting, playing now through Oct. 12 at Hyde Park Theatre.
The premise of the show is deceptively simple (and apocalyptic).
It seems that the sun has set, possibly forever, and a local news team both out in the field and in the studio must struggle with the necessity of reporting the (non-)event. An empty house, dogs in a field, a camera-shy witness, and a governor rapidly losing his grip, are the raw materials for these broadcast journalists, and it isn’t much to work with.
"Whenever something happens, so does something else." Such are some of the curiously hollow yet profound words of Michael the Legal Adviser (Michael Ferstenfeld) as he reports from the capitol during this time of crisis.
There’s a playful poetry to Eno’s script that resounds with a lyricism that belies the shallowness of what the actors are saying. And although the performance begins with comic repetition of vapid phrases and verbal flourishes, over the course of the short seventy-five minutes we shift to a mournful sense of emptiness that no longer has room for laughter.
Directed by Ken Webster, "Tragedy" is the kind of theater that we don’t see as much of anymore: an absurd spiraling of language in which very little occurs.
Yet the show feels like a delightfully strange hybrid of Samuel Beckett and Stephen Colbert, and Webster handles the script deftly.
Michael Ferstenfeld offers the show’s most hilarious musings, while Webster (as Frank in the Studio) stoically holds down the fort. Benjamin Summers’ (John in the Field) hyperventilating makes for an extremely compelling meltdown, and Molly Karrasch’s (Constance at the Home) exasperation is well played. And as the bewildered witness, Nathan Brockett is endearingly non-expressive.
For theatergoers hoping for some action or a tangible sense of plot, "Tragedy" will fall far short of expectations.
Yet for those of us with a taste for theater that forces us to listen carefully, pushes us to gauge our own reactions, and possibly induces some head scratching, "Tragedy: A Tragedy" yields plenty of food for thought.
"Tragedy: A Tragedy" continues 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Oct. 12.. Tickets $18-$22. Hyde Park Theatre 511 W. 43rd Street. www.hydeparktheatre.org.