Volume 77 / Number 32 Jan. 9 - 15, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Eno at his most illuminating

By Sarah Norris

In the fifth and final play in Will Eno’s new collection, “Oh, the Humanity and Other Exclamations,” a nameless character steps onstage and is asked to identify himself. “You’re probably going to laugh,” the young man in torn blue jeans says, “But, I’m the beauty of things.” He takes a step closer to the audience and continues: “Just to let you know, I don’t possess any secret knowledge or any glimpse into anything.”

Taken on its own, that line almost becomes a prophecy for Eno’s very particular style of storytelling. With 2003’s Pulitzer-nominated one-man show, “Thom Pain (based on nothing),” the Brooklyn playwright established himself as an inspired voice of dramatic existentialism — one part wildly entertaining bourgeois depression and the other an unmitigated explosion of anguish and gaping loneliness.

Averaging 15 minutes, each play reveals a vignette hewn from the loneliness that compels these characters to grasp for connection. “Behold the Coach, in a Blazer, Uninsured” features a single, eponymous character (Brian Hutchison) as the beleaguered coach hosting a press conference at the end of a losing season. His monologue conveys his profound heartache and sense of personal loss. One night in a grocery store, he says, he found himself staring at his reflection in a freezer, realizing, “You’re not having a bad day — this is just what you look like, now. This is who the years are making you.”

Among the many remarkable aspects of Eno’s writing is the seamlessness of his humor, characters and themes, which thread together with perfect and exacting subtlety. Eno and director Jim Simpson are supported by the excellent acting of Hutchison and Marisa Tomei (who is replaced by Christina Kirk Jan. 15). In “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rain,” the actors appear on opposite sides of the small stage, squinting toward the audience. Each of them is making a dating video, in which they describe themselves, and what it is they desire in a partner. “Sometimes, you wish you were dead,” Hutchison says, “but you’ll probably die wishing you could live.”

“You’re looking for me,” Tomei says. “Someone like me. I’ve been described as The Girl Next Door, by neighbors.”

At their best, Eno’s writing, along with Hutchison’s performance, are nothing short of revelatory. And then, just as one decides that it can’t get any better, or more intense, the drama recedes, replaced by the most pedestrian of situations. After pleading for true love on his video, Hutchison’s character asks, “Is there a little light that’s supposed to come on?”

OH, THE HUMANITY AND OTHER EXCLAMATIONS. Written by Will Eno. Directed by Jim Simpson. Extended through Feb. 2 at The Flea, 41 White St., betweenBroadway & Church, 212-352-3101, theflea.org.

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