New City’s TERRORISM Presents a Sardonic Look at Modern Life

Passenger: It’s madness — what sort of an age do we live in? You don’t feel safe anywhere now, only at home…

First Passenger: At home?

Passenger: Only at home now.

First Passenger:. You hold on to your convictions.

Violence and fear sure get a lot of press these days, but rarely are they given such a expansive treatment as in the Presnyakov Brothers’ TERRORISM, now in an New City Stage Company production at the Adrienne Theatre.

Military police have closed an airport because unattended luggage has been left on a runway. In this play, terrorism is not just so commonplace that it’s become a resignedly accepted irritant to stranded passengers. It is a large-scale manifestation of society’s moral bankruptcy, evident in an adulterous couple battling in the bedroom, in an office environment riven by a sudden suicide, in a pair of poisonous old ladies on a park bench, and in a locker room of rescue workers seduced by the savage beauty of violence.

These darkly humorous and seriously funny inter-related scenes were written pre-911 by a pair of Russian playwrights, but they capture the soulless dislocation that is our universal modern condition. This is best expressed in the bedroom scene, where simulated violence has become a bore, and “real violence would be so much more interesting.” Dan Olmstead’s nonchalant monologue here is a highlight of the play.

In an impressively large cast, Russ Widdall also shines as an oppressive office manager and a disturbing fire chief. Other standouts include Susan Giddings and Drucie McDaniel, who share an unsettling scene as bitter old women, terrorists to those around them.

Well executed lighting changes (Matt Sharp) link the pieces superbly, and set designer Cory Palmer handles the demanding scenery changes well. Dramatically though, director Rosey Hay has not quite found a way to tie the disparate scenes together with a consistent tone (a challenge given their loose connections and the large cast), but each vignette has its own rewards. And although some scenes are played as Gogolian farce when they might have benefited from more nuanced realism, even these are entertaining (the office scene especially).

TERRORISM’s themes are clear before the over-explication of the final scene: in myriad minor ways we terrorize each other, we terrorize ourselves, “we kill each other in slow motion.” As one character says, “everyone is infected, they explode in different ways.” The title deceives: this is not a political drama, it’s an engaging, provocative, and cynically funny examination of modern life.

by the Presnyakov Brothers
(translated by Sasha Dugdale and adapted for the American stage by Ginger Dayle)
Directed by Rosey Hay
Through March 25, 2012
New City Stage Company
at the Adrienne Theatre
2030 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA

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