'Killing Game' lives up to its tantalizing torture at A Red Orchid Theatre
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
When every day brings another inevitable bearing of bad news, a revival of Eugene Ionesco's absurdist-comedic work could not be more warranted. With the horrific ridiculousness that is the Trump administration, looming effects of climate change that remain unresolved, and the unreported, underground global affairs that feel straight out of Scandal, Killing Game doesn't represent our future--it represents our now. Through mind blowing, tour-de-force direction by Dado and music from the underworld unearthed to life from Elenna Sindler, no one makes it out of this play unscathed, especially the audience.
Killing Game's success hinges on several aspects: the text's immediate relevancy, an iron-clad committed ensemble, and dramaturgically driven artistic choices. I've never been so impressed in feeling the impact of decisions created to ensure the truest emulation of Ionesco's intentions while still making it accessible to an audience. Although Helen Gary Bishop's translation serves as the core text, additional work was done by Clara Orban and students from DePaul University's French department to include source material not in the provided translation. A simple addition like this that requires extensive work demonstrates an admirable attitude to wanting to make a production stand out and worthwhile.
Ionesco's text in its deliberately delirious verse immediately brings with it a gift of comedy. While the ensemble checks off those boxes, Dado shapes it overall under the lens of a psychological thriller. Before the hundred minutes of contained chaos erupts, stir-crazy lights and sounds fade in and out putting you on edge. An abandoned red tricycle, an ominous, claustrophobic booth, and sinister, hidden projections provide a hellscape that's terrifying, but thrilling. The environment feels like a grave playground and the actors emerge all too happily to play on the muses of tragedy and fear.
As its title indicates, everyone dies in Killing Game within the first couple minutes, and then again as a group of prisoners, and again after a dark dance party. Death is a nameless cycle mirroring the nature of its characters. Everyone in their shifting roles is hit over the course of minutes, with an increasing urgency epitomized by a looming Grim Reaper on stilts who brazes in and out over the plague ridden town. Inevitable associations with the end of days occur like munching on human meat pies, not to be trusted schoolgirls, and citizens bicker in a constant state of unrest pointing fingers left and right of who's to blame for their misfortune. That last one can also apply to any time you log on to Twitter.
Despite this manic madness, snapshots of empathy and protest allow a text that howls like an unrelenting beast to become momentarily tamed and grounded. Two pairs of lovers, one younger and one older, partake in a mini-opera of heartbreak over the sickness of their significant other. A frantic flurry of doctors are deconstructed in their god like complexes debating lunacy on causes of death. A heavenly elder couple bring a dose of refreshing hope reflecting on the sentimentality of love and life that's the closest thing to a cure. Every moment manages to catch you off guard igniting an endless excitement despite the play's dreary circumstances.
The pragmatism of politics and patriarchy run rampant, but perhaps the evil pinpointed most in this production as the cause of the citizen's problems lies in class. The clash of the vast distribution of wealth plays an instrumental role scene to scene resulting in laughs, eye rolls, or feigned surprise. While some are trying to make it home alive, others are preparing for a ball or focused on cleaning the family manor. For the wealthier citizens, issues are foiled by ignorance and don't exist unless they acknowledge them. It makes certain lines tug on your sleeve from the impending grave like, "The administration never lied to you," and "Who benefits from all these deaths?" These statements and questions are often what we're given when we turn on the news or read an article. It's hard to imagine a time where this dialogue doesn't scream in truth, and can instead exist as a mark of the past.
Killing Game presents a living nightmare that's all too familiar depending on who you ask. Its strength as a work cuts deep given our climate where oppression is acknowledged in the mainstream despite still happening in everyday occurrences, authoritative figures and entities are not to be trusted, but questioned, and privilege comes at a price which some benefit from paying while those who can't suffer despite being held to the same means of survival. In living in a world where crucial issues are deliberately ignored by those in positions in power and only acknowledged when convenient, Ionesco and this production proposes the unknown isn't to be feared, but the known which will ensure our downfall.