EmptyThe Flea, New York
Through Dec. 22
Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei generously restrains her star power in "Oh, the Humanity and Other Exclamations," Will Eno's five brief and alluring one-act plays receiving world premieres at off-Broadway's the Flea. With admirable delicacy, Tomei and fellow actor Brian Hutchison illuminate Eno's subtle, wry excursions into questions of identity and existence.
The comparatively unadorned Tribeca space known as the Flea is ideal for Eno's spare, word-centered work, which usually begins with a familiar situation and then journeys into existential realms.
"Behold the Coach, in a Blazer, Uninsured," the hourlong evening's first entry, presents a high school coach (Hutchison) sitting behind a table and explaining the team's losing season at a press conference. But the explanation soon encompasses references to life and love irreplaceably lost.
Similarly, "Oh, the Humanity -- the evening's final and strongest offering -- begins with a husband (Hutchison) and wife (Tomei) driving to an event. The car (represented by two chairs) breaks down, and soon Eno's script suggests, in the manner of Beckett, that the couple is riding to nowhere in a realm that conjures the nothingness of death.
All this sounds as though it might be ominously dull, except that Eno -- whose play "Thom Paine (based on nothing)" was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize -- injects moments of quirky humor just at the time when terminal heaviness feels about to set in.
Unfortunately, Jim Simpson, the Flea's artistic director, has apparently asked the actors to perform in an almost affectless way, with the result that there is little rhythmic variety within each play and less humor than Eno actually wrote.
Tomei and Hutchison rigorously and selflessly adhere to this style, and though the result is a quietly moving evening of theater, a bit more vivacity would be welcome.
OH, THE HUMANITY AND OTHER EXCLAMATIONS
Presented by the Flea
Playwright: Will Eno
Director: Jim Simpson
Set designer: Kyle Chepulis
Lighting designer: Brian Aldous
Costume designer: Claudia Brown
Sound designer: Jill BC DuBoff
Brian Hutchison, Marisa Tomei, Drew Hildebrand