OH, WHAT BLISS!
by Harvey Perr
published December 5, 2007
Oh The Humanity and other
now playing Off Broadway at The Flea
through December 22
Every so often, when we least expect it but probably need it most, a unique voice emerges in the theater to both shake us up and
remind us who we are. When “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” opened a few seasons back, the playwright who did indeed bring that special kind
of voice into the arena was Will Eno. For Eno, language is not merely the putting together of words; it is a moral universe. It is
theatrical language in the purest sense, language that could only exist in the theater. It is not literary. It is not everyday speech. But
it is a sound that is familiar to us, a music inside our heads, because it emanates from someone on stage who is none other than us. That
person on stage is experiencing exactly the sort of pain and rage and laughter we can feel within ourselves. If it is not the words we speak, then, ultimately, it is the words we wish we could use to express
ourselves. Other playwrights – Beckett or Pinter come to mind – play around with language in similar ways, but few are as genuinely playful
as Eno is. He is a true original and every opportunity to hear him in action should be true bliss.
“Oh the Humanity and other exclamations” is his new collection of commentaries on the human condition - five short pieces which
occupy a little more than an hour of our time – and the occasion is reason enough to hire a marching band and send it around town to tell
everyone within ear shot to rush to the Flea before December 22 and get a dose of the adrenaline they provide. The evening begins brilliantly with “Behold the Coach, In a Blazer, Uninsured” in which a coach gives what must be some sort of pep talk to the team about the kind of year they are
having. Brian Hutchison, an actor who must live inside Eno’s brain, makes of this character a kind of Everyman so that when he finally
says, “Could someone please come clean up the spill that is my life on earth?,” you’re apt to
rush right over with whatever you have at your disposal to help him, because, after all, you’re only cleaning up after
yourself. And the evening ends beautifully with the title play, in which a man and a woman
keep trying to separate theater from reality. When the man stops the car he is driving and the woman asks if it’s the battery, he reminds
her that it’s just two chairs, not a car at all. They are joined in their metaphysical debate by a second man who represents the beauty of
things, or is it the majesty? Or the humanity? Whatever he represents, it is generosity that
pours out of him.
There are three “plays” in between and while one sometimes wishes that there was some of the ballast of storytelling to
keep them afloat, they are each alive with Eno’s writing, with Jim Simpson’s direction – it is simply staged and beautifully felt –
and with the performances of the glowingly intelligent Marisa Tomei and the marvelous Mr. Hutchison who locates the comfort zone in which
all this verbal quirkiness naturally resides.
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com