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Oh, the Humanity and other exclamations

Will Eno's collection of short plays adds up to less than the sum of its parts. logo
Marisa Tomei and Brian Hutchison in
Oh, the Humanity and other exclamations
(© Richard Termine)
Will Eno's Oh, the Humanity and other exclamations contains some beautifully evocative language and an offbeat sense of humor. Unfortunately, this collection of five short plays at the Flea Theater, starring Academy Award winner Marisa Tomei and Brian Hutchison, adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

Hutchison begins the show as a coach of an unnamed sports team, who holds a press conference about his team's poor season, as well as his own romantic heartbreak. The second piece consists of two overlapping monologues by Hutchison and Tomei as they record video dating profiles that are unlikely to get a positive response. Tomei then performs a solo as a spokeswoman of an airline talking to the families of crash victims. An interlude wherein the two actors attempt to recreate a historical photograph -- with the audience as its models -- follows. Finally, the show concludes with a metatheatrical sequence that points up the themes of loneliness and loss that have run throughout the entire evening.

Taken separately, each piece has merit, and Eno's writing contains some wonderful lines, such as Tomei's video date declaration: "I've been described as The Girl Next Door, by neighbors." The problem is that the tone, as established by both the author and director Jim Simpson, is too similar from playlet to playlet. A little more variety may have helped to spice things up.

Hutchison, in particular, has the same characterization for each of his roles. However, he does do a fine job emotionally connecting to the material, seeming like a man so overburdened by sorrow that he could burst into tears at any moment, but doesn't. He also brings out the sad humor of the script, such as a moment when the coach catches sight of his reflection while in a grocery store and realizes, "You're not having a bad day -- this is just what you look like now."

Conversely, Tomei differentiates her characters more successfully, but unfortunately does not delve as deeply. Her portrayals feel distant and artificial, although her turn as the airline representative does show a few different shades. Rounding out the cast is Drew Hildebrand, who appears only in the final play of the evening. His role of a mysterious man claiming to be "the beauty of things" is self-consciously pretentious, but the actor acquits himself well.

Simpson's staging is simple, yet elegant. The furniture and set pieces of Kyle Chepulis' set design are minimal and can be carried on and offstage fairly quickly, making for smooth transitions. In addition, the titles of each of the five plays are projected onto a screen during the blackouts.

The running time of the entire program is just over an hour, which means its quirky charms do not wear out their welcome. Still, the program, as a whole, is simply not as engaging as one might have hoped for.

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