Reviewed by Will Stackman
Conspiracy theory is part and parcel of modern life. But only a mind as devious as Eric Overmeyer's could weave a play around a publishing house whose business is ghostwriting books on conspiracies to order. "In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe" (1988), the second production of a new young theatre company, Whistler in the Dark, which takes its name from one of Howard Baker's poems, is set among the denizens of Maria Montage's wordmill in NYC. Lorna McKenzie, seen in the company's inaugural production of Baker's "The Possibilities", plays that role, and also appears--wearing a faux fur bikini--as a secondary character, Claire Silver, who may be a character in a novel. She's joined by Jennifer O'Connor from that previous production who plays her henchwoman, Buster, plus conspiracy spouting Mrs. Peterson and the Joculatrix, the Norman jester who invented the chain-letter.
This latter phenomemon, one of the scripts secondary themes, afflicts a ghost writer, Lyle Vial, played with nervous intensity by Alejandro Simoes. Central to the action is newly hired, Christine Penderecki, played by Stacy Kirk, who winds up working of an important project for the firm's saturnine owner, Mr. Ampersand Qwerty, played by Travis Boswell. Boswell also appears as Oscar Rang, a peculiar podiatrist, which may be a disguise. The sixth member of the ensemble is Chuong Dinh Pham who plays Dennis Wu, a Chinese-American and Christine's office romance, is also is seen as the sinister Far Eastern merchant, Tai-Tung Tranh. The latter character appears in the novel she's "ghosting"--an update of Sax Rohmer's Dr. Fu Manchu--but may be a real gang lord, responsible for the disappearance of her predecessor. Pham has a stellar moment doing standup in Chinese, Kirk is a convincing naif.
No one would take the increasingly fragmented plot of this play seriously, except that Overmeyer's insights into the modern psyche ring true too often, some twenty years on. Written when the U.S. media were trumpeting the rise of Far Eastern capitalism, the fear of foreign domination is palpable. Combined with the general tendency of the government to become more secretive, and new threats appearing, there's no wonder that things were getting, and have indeed gotten, even more paranoid. It's interesting to speculate what the author would do with current affairs, which less than twenty years later present a whole new series of crises, which of course, were there in 1988 as well. Conspiracy theory tries to make things relate; reality may be less organized, but equally scary. And now we've got the Internet.
The company makes good use of Charlestown Working Theatre's black box space. The setting(s) are six areas, four with furniture, an upstage platform, and downstage center. Co-artistic director Ben Farnstein keeps the action flowing from area to area, aided by Andrew Dickey's simple flexible lighting. Kelly Leigh David has given the costuming a slightly retro look, with just enough changes to help the cast play their multiple roles. The focus is on the playwright's extravagant language, which the cast makes plausible, if not entirely comprehensible. This might be a show to visit more than once, or at least think about. Perhaps other company's in the area will want to take a look at Overmeyer's oeuvre and take up the challenge. He's certainly in the same class as Abaire and more entertaining than Durang's recent efforts. CWT, after some doldrums. is reemerging as an important avant-garde venue through the work of such companies as the Whistlers and the equally enigmatic Molasses Tank. Downhill from the Bunker Hill monument in a neatly converted firehouse, and only a short walk from a subway stop, more of Boston's newer theatrical endeavors may be looking across the Charles to this venue, especially since this company received a Norton Award nomination for their first effort.