Presented by the New Group and the Play Company, casting by Judy Henderson, C.S.A., at the Harold Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC, May 23–June 26.
Despite its unappetizing title, this 80-minute play by the Siberian Presnyakov Brothers (Vladimir and Oleg) doesn't deal with overt acts of violence by underground organizations. True, the opening scene takes place in an unnamed airport that has been closed because of unattended suitcases that may contain bombs. The vivid set by David Korins, a slab of gray cement wall angled against a background of a shade of orange that suggests a faded Soviet flag, all very gulag, also portends mass mischief. But it's only a setup for several side stories linked together by one businessman (Alex Draper) frantic to catch his plane that isn't flying.
His wife, thinking he's in the air, has kinky sex with a married man. One of the businessman's employees commits suicide in the office. An old woman suggests to her friend, a grandmother, that she kill her son-in-law—who is "ethnic"—by slow poisoning, and offers the means to do it. Firemen laugh at photographs of the remains of a nude woman who was burned while tied to a bed. These smaller, individual acts of terrorism prove that, as one character puts it, "we kill ourselves in slow motion."
Something may be lost in the translation (by Sasha Dugdale), but the play—which purports to be a comedy—was a success in London as well as in Russia. Perhaps it was all that gratuitous nudity on stage, mostly male. Laura Esterman and Draper are the standout actors in this production, infusing their roles with more meaning than seems to be on the page. Three of the remaining six actors underplay their roles out of existence, in which director Will Frears must be complicit. The Presnyakovs are certainly guilty of underwriting. The whole production seems amateurishly inert, which may even be deliberate. But it doesn't work.