Wallace Shawn’s dialogue in Lorem Ipsum's mouth

You keep using that word
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  May 23, 2013



Pedestrians passing the window of Rose Contemporary gallery last weekend might have wondered what several leering, expensively dressed people were up to inside. Here's what: surreal and fascinatingly disturbing debauch. Such is the m.o. of the sophisticated savages of Our Late Night, by Wallace Shawn. The theater collective Lorem Ipsum, under the direction of Nicholas Schroeder (the Phoenix's own), stages an arresting production of this short but scathing 1975 one-act, in a compelling venue for a play set in a room overlooking the city — a room that, as the program coyly notes, "we all have access to."

Our Late Night opens as Lewis (Caleb Aaron Coulthard) and Annette (Mariah Bergeron) prepare to host a certain kind of party: "Do you think I should be a woman tonight?" Lewis murmurs, while Annette stares down through the window as if drugged. Soon, their place will be crawling with swingers (Michael Dix Thomas, Phoenician Deirdre Fulton, Ian Carlsen, Corey Anderson, and Tess Van Horn), whose height above the masses will encourage them to indulge in all manner of depravity, oversharing, and childlike fascination with bodily effluvia.

The script, dark and often bizarrely funny, traffics in banal profanities, absurdist imagery, and an eerie, funhouse fluidity between childhood desires and adult ones, between sexual fantasy, reality, and nightmare. Fulton's relentlessly giddy Kristin giggles about a masturbation game followed by a cheerful bout of farting, while Van Horn's lyrically damaged Samantha blows off Carlsen's Jim with: "I drink wine that's made out of sperm." Across the room, Dix Thomas's ominous Grant coolly discusses a masturbation study involving "warps and needles for the females." And in the longest and perhaps most disturbing scene, Anderson's Tony details to Jim his epic, horrifying sexploits in the tropics. The sexual details are appalling enough, but it's the steadiness of Anderson's gaze and the force of his entitlement that are truly terrifying, and the reaction of Carlsen's Jim — the most decent and Everymannish of the men — is priceless, as his jocularity turns to queasiness.

These actors, most of whom are founding members of the collective, are acting at the top of their games, with a cohesion of rapport and vision that is characteristic of Lorem Ipsum's work. Characterizations across the board are both absurd and poignant, and Schroeder pays excellent attention to pacing and tone, as when an earnest monologue about flower petals is punctuated by offstage sobs and gagging. Between scenes, the partygoers re-constellate themselves into new pairings, and we're treated to marvelous, rich little moments — so good that they could be sustained even longer — of several intimate conversations taking place at once.

Within the gallery space, the staging and seating gesture at a party's haphazard mingling: a few chairs are placed away from the traditional audience arc, and the actors move between the window, a couch up center, and designated chairs among the audience; some theater-goers will experience moments without clear sightlines. That's not a bad thing, necessarily — obstructed vision amplifies the sense of eavesdropping at a skeevy party — though the show is so short (under an hour) and its nature so confrontational that it might have lent itself to a more whole-hog immersion concept, letting the audience drink for a half an hour of pre-show, then mingle and move about as the narrative focus shifts. On the other hand, Schroeder's staging choices enhance the sense of voyeurism and apartness that runs through the play: we in the audience are fixed, separate, and unapologetically enjoying watching.

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  Topics: Theater , Lorem Ipsum, Wallace Shawn, Rose Contemporary
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