Ben Lewis and Giulia Innocenti in Hysteria
(© Joseph Alford)
Ben Lewis and Giulia Innocenti in Hysteria
(© Joseph Alford)
The biggest mistake anyone can make about Hysteria, now playing in repertory at 59E59 Theatres, is trying to make any sense of it whatsoever. The best approach here is to go along for the ride. Even at that, some potential riders will find the 55-minute journey too bumpy, while others will get more kicks than jolts from the bizarre experience.

Here's some of what unfolds along the way to tempered madness. Immediately following the background tape of a woman laughing uncontrollably as she tries to tell a story involving a banana, an androgynous person (Lucinka Eisler) mimes brushing his/her teeth and then counting them. He/she eventually locates a missing tooth at the back of his/her neck. At work shortly thereafter as a waiter, he/she attends a man designated as Man (Ben Lewis) and a woman designated as Woman (Giulia Innocenti). The seemingly typical customers may or may not be on an awkward first date and may or may not be co-workers.

While the poker-faced, straight-haired server --silently executing much of his/her Champagne-pouring and other menial duties -- glides to and from a dumb-waiter, the man and woman behave civilly to each other through accessible if disjointed chat or they abruptly go bonkers. When he rushes to the toilet, she pulls a red boa and a banana from her purse, donning the boa and stuffing the banana in her mouth. Later, while she's in the part of the stage meant to be the toilet, he pulls the boa from her purse as well as a lipstick which he applies. Then, he, too, does some banana-stuffing.

Every once in a while, he leaps up from the table, then races stage left to pull a microphone from a stand and begins ranting into it. At one point, he discourses about a rhesus monkey whose picture he holds aloft. At another point, he expatiates about the dire nature of the planet. At yet other moments, he ventures into the audience to confront aisle-sitters in a mannerly fashion.

While the piece is very much its own thing, it also qualifies as a bona fide return to what used to be termed Theater of the Absurd. The urge simply to free-associate within the context appears to be what Lewis, Eisler, and Innocent (the co-founders and sole members of the production outfit Inspector Sands) enjoy doing -- and are supremely confident doing it!

Indeed, these are players who go about their work not by trying to get laughs but by completely committing themselves physically and emotionally to their chosen antics. Lewis, lanky and nimble, never wavers as a fool with no idea that's what he is. Innocenti, sexy in a low-cut, form-fitting dress, is superficially cool as a cucumber while harboring quirks that surface unpredictably. The lean Eisler, who studied mime at Paris' Jacques Lecoq center, never utters a word while performing obsequious waiter's chores that her character seems still in the process of mastering.