Monday, March 24, 2008

"Tragedy: A Tragedy: " ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The sun has gone down. Night has fallen. The Local Channel Three News Team is on location, attempting to cover the story. "We're staying on top of things, trying to get to the bottom of things," says news anchor Frank in the Studio, played to perfection by David Cromwell. He seems to be wearing Walter Cronkite's shirt.

Frank is communicating by telephone with Constance (Marquerite Stimpson), who is standing in front of a house where no one is home, trying to cull some meaning from the fact that it is dark outside and getting darker. "Whenever something happens, something does," she says.

Also on the story is John in the Field (Thomas Jay Ryan), who gets to mouth most of the show's best philosophical zingers. He appears to be having a stroke, but that doesn't stop Frank from asking: "Any thoughts, John?" "Not really."

The last field reporter is legal analyst Michael, played John Stewart Show-like by Max Gordon Moore. He mostly reports from the steps of city hall where he reads dispatches from the Governor. Those hand-written dispatches get crazier and crazier until the Governor abdicates his office by crawling out the window and sliding down a drainpipe ("Thank you for your confidence, which I will now betray.").

On the surface, Will Eno's "Tragedy: a Tragedy" is a satire on the vapidity of TV News, but that's just the funny part. The real issue is that there is no story to cover, which reveals how empty all the reporters' lives (and all of ours?) are. The longer these poor souls doggedly attempt to pull some meaning out of the fact that night has fallen, the more deeply they sink into their own personal angst.

Remember: "Tragedy: A Tragedy" is not a tragedy. It's a comedy, but it's carrying a knife. John in the field has the final say. Stumped for anything else to report, he decides to recite the alphabet: "A-B-C-D-E-F-G---but you all know how that turns out."

RATINGS: "Tragedy: A Tragedy" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Tragedy: A Tragedy" a star for Will Eno's vision, another star for Antje Ellermann's very cool set, and a star for all the belly laughs. Belly laughs are worth a star all by themselves, even when you're the only one laughing. There are too many wonderful lines to single them all out, but a special BANGLE of Praise is awarded for the way John in the Field, blood running from his nose, sums up everyone's situation: "Why was I born to stand outside talking about people inside?"

And now, from a chair in an office somewhere in a dank writer's cavern in central San Francisco, this is me, with a message of hope for my readers: "Be brave. Go out and Loot."

"Tragedy: A Tragedy"
Berkeley Repertory Theater, Thrust Stage
2025 Addison Street, Berkeley
Tue-Sun. through April 13; $33-$69

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