The crime? Empty seats at the Abreact

By Donald V. Calamia

REVIEW:

'Comedies of Menace: The Dumb Waiter & The Devil's Game'

The Abreact Performance Space, 442 E. Lafayette, Detroit. Fri.-Sat., through Nov. 25, plus Sun., Nov. 19. Free admission/donations accepted; reservations recommended. For information: 313-247-5270 or http://www.theabreact.com.

There was a crime committed last Friday night at Detroit's coolest theater, The Abreact, and it had nothing to do with the themes addressed in the opening night performance of "Comedies of Menace," an evening of two one-acts that serves as the second show of the loft theater's 2006/07 season.

Rather, the crime was committed by Detroit area theatergoers who seemingly feared the unseasonably cold, night air and stayed away from what is traditionally a very packed and party-hardy performance.

And that was a shame, since one might assume that the chance to see an intimate, professional production for free - yes, The Abreact doesn't charge admission for its shows, but accepts donations - would cause theater lovers to fill the place to the rafters. Obviously, that didn't happen.

The fact that this was an evening of absurdist theater MIGHT have had something to do with the low turnout. After all, that particular style of theater is not everyone's cup of tea - which, I discovered, includes the friend who accompanied me. But I doubt it - given the success of similar productions at the theater.

The two plays, linked together as an exploration of absurdism through the ages, both tell stories about a pair of men up to no good who are awaiting instructions from their mysterious boss.

In Harold Pinter's "The Dumb Waiter," Ben (played by Bryan Spangler) and Gus (David Schoen) are experienced hit men stuck in a basement expecting word about their next kill. Throughout their stay, the two receive numerous written orders - for food, not murder - via a dumbwaiter that seems to connect to a restaurant upstairs. The final order, however, might surprise you!

In "The Devil's Game," playwright Bo Price answers the question, "What if we found a guy who was so dumb he didn't know who the bogeyman was?" Billy (Chad Kushaba) and Joey (Sean McGettigan) enter, dragging with them a bound man with his head covered. "Are we recruiting him?" asks Joey, only three days in to "the job." No, it appears he's there for discipline, so the two wait for instructions from the boss on what to do with him. The result isn't quite what the boss intended!

Although both halves are entertaining, "The Dumb Waiter" lacks some of the tension that should build with each message received. More satisfying is director Adam Barnowski's slick, energetic second act.

But ultimately, what the no-shows missed were four talented actors having a blast playing dark, edgy characters.

Schoen is quite adept at using his expressive face and deep, colorful voice to convey his characters' thoughts; his sinister taunts in "The Devil's Game" are especially chilling.

So, too, is McGettigan, as the quiet disciplinarian who sees his life in terms of every dramatic movie he's ever seen.

And Kushaba's intense, almost manic portrayal perfectly fits the character.

The Bottom Line: Fine performances - whether or not you understand the plays.

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