"Don't look at me," Holum says playfully in the Midwestern twang of a housewife as she takes a seat in the audience before describing the deceptively simple kitchen of Jennifer Samuels. Jennifer is a scientist who discovers that she contains the genetic coding of the twin she consumed in the womb—a twin who shares her DNA with Jennifer's son, effectively making him Jennifer's nephew. "No one dies," Holum's narrator assures us later with a shark's grin, belying her chipper attitude. This is a woman who knows how to host a party—she offers to make a fresh pot of coffee for her audience—but who has ulterior motives in gathering us together for story time.
The story that she eventually unfolds is both laugh-out-loud funny and unsettling, as the choices Jennifer makes are gradually revealed and defended. At various points, Holum assumes the roles of Jennifer, her twin, and her son, often popping out of unfathomable parts of that kitchen, cleverly designed by Jeremy Wilhelm. She effortlessly morphs from one to another, each clearly delineated and each in his or her own way heartbreaking. Aided immeasurably by mesmerizing projections (by Kate Freer and David Tennent of Room 404 Media) and lighting (by James Clotfelter), Holum gleefully exposes the theatrical tricks she's employing without ever pressing the point. "This is a kitchen," she says. "This is a theater. The faucet doesn't work. This isn't that kind of theater."
"Chimera," for all of its double helixes and scientific talk, simultaneously revels in and knowingly dissects the nature of theater without forgetting its primary mission: to entertain. Shows that are equal parts funny and smart are in short supply. Here's hoping for a longer life for Jennifer and her twin.
Presented by and at Here Arts Center as part of the Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival, 145 Sixth Ave., NYC. Jan. 8–28. Wed., Thu., and Sun., 7 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 7 and 10:30 p.m. (Additional performance Tue., Jan. 24, 7 p.m.) (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.here.org.