Life is hard and lonely for everyone. We all feel desperate sometimes. We all die. These are all messages central to Will Eno’s collection of five short plays appropriately titled Oh the Humanity, and other exclamations. While there is nothing really wrong with Manbites Dog Theater Company’s presentation of the play, there isn’t much to care about either. The show tries to make profound statements about life, but they are sentiments the audience has heard before. Nothing new or special is brought to life, and the performance unfolds into an evening of depression without any real purpose. The fault, however, lies with Eno’s at worst bland, at best moderately intriguing script, and not with the cast or the director.
Most of the cast, in fact, works well with what they have been given. David Berberian is self-deprecating and believably morose as a down-on-his-luck coach admitting to the failures of his previous season in the first short play. Chris Burner and Lormarev C. Jones shine with believability and awkwardness as lonely singles in the second, and Katja Hill is a neurotic airline spokeswoman trying to reconcile a recent plane crash in the third. The fourth play, The Bully Composition, is by far the strongest and features Derrick Ivey and Lance Waycaster as photographers who describe, in haunting detail, the faces they find in an old war photo. The final play, featuring Burner and Hill as a couple squabbling over whether they are heading to a funeral or a christening, is weakly written and leaves audience members scratching their heads in confusion. The characters actually take note of the fact that they are not in a car but rather on two regular chairs, perhaps a symbolic gesture of the meaninglessness of life, but one that falls flat.
Lacing all of these stories together are several hauntingly beautiful musical interludes, including a rare and mesmerizing performance of “Angel from Montogomery,” by Jones. These musical interludes are one of the few truly enjoyable things about the show. Director Jeff Storer’s choice to keep many of the actors on stage for the duration of the performance is also a nice touch. When the plays being presented grow overly bland, the background characters’ haunted, often despairing faces make for an interesting distraction.
While far from perfect, this production does the best possible job with the dry script it’s been given, a script that, despite its nuances, is just not for everyone. The performance will run through Saturday, December 18. Tickets can be purchased by calling (919) 682-3343.