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Alex Delinois, Thomas Bradshaw, Sibyl Kempson,
and Jim Fletcher (obscured) in The End of Reality
(Photo © Paula Court)
A mysterious man enters the lobby of a building and abducts one of four security guards. It doesn't seem like the first time this sort of thing has happened, judging from the reactions of the others, who scream and attempt to prevent the unfortunate guard from being dragged away. This literal loss of security is the overarching theme of downtown auteur Richard Maxwell's The End of Reality, a provocative new work that captures the unsettling times in which we now live.

The play centers around a group of security guards headed by Tom (Thomas Bradshaw). Some of them, such as Jake (Alex Delinois) and Shannon (Sibyl Kempson), don't last very long -- either because they're abducted or because they can't cut it in the job. Brian (Brian Mendes) is the mainstay, and Tom hires his goddaughter Marcia (Marcia Hidalgo) to help out. We never find out what it is they're actually guarding or what the mysterious intruder (Jim Fletcher) wants.

Writer-director Maxwell is known for a quirky kind of hypernaturalism; actors in his shows display fewer changes in vocal pitch and intonation than you would find in most stage performances, and there is also a restriction of extraneous movement. The End of Reality cast members all reference this style but seem to display a wider range of emotions than in previous Maxwell productions. Mendes is the most expressive -- sometimes shouting, sometimes lending his words a hard edge. And there is a quiet melancholy behind many of Hidalgo's speeches, particularly a lengthy monologue delivered to a silent Fletcher.

The script is punctuated by several fight sequences that are both violent and hilarious. There's a brutal quality to the fighting; it doesn't have the slickness of the martial arts and is more about bringing down the opponent with whatever punch, kick, or other blow that might work. The action is slowed down, allowing for moments of humor, yet it's still raw and discomfiting.

Sadness pervades the lives of the three central characters. For Tom, it's caused by the gradual erosion of the neighborhood, which he laments on several occasions. Brian suddenly realizes his emotional emptiness when he meets Marcia and believes that she can fill it. However, Marcia is dealing with her own problems, most of them relating to her family and the certainty she feels that her mother loves her sister -- whom Marcia also adores -- more than her.

Eric Dyer's nearly all-white set is an abstraction of the environment, which looks more like a modern art gallery than an office building. Different rooms and doorways are marked by lines of blue tape on the floor, though the actors are inconsistent in paying attention to them. A large white canvas that hangs at the back of the set becomes a projection screen for the security tapes that the guards monitor. The projections are photographs of real-life locations, including a computer room and the stairwell of a building. Dyer is also responsible for the lighting, which remains fairly stark throughout the show.

In The End of Reality, time is compressed and even breaks down. The time-stamped images seen in the projections do not appear to be in chronological order. On Marcia's first day, the guards capture the intruder (they can't seem to determine if he's the same one as before) and leave him handcuffed on the lobby floor while they call the police to pick him up, yet he seems to remain there for days on end. We get the feeling that Marcia works the security detail for several days if not weeks, giving time for Brian to develop feelings for her.

By play's end, nothing has been adequately resolved. We've seen more violence and further losses of security personnel; it also appears that a former security officer has switched sides. We get the feeling that things will continue on in this fashion and may even get worse. It's an uncomfortable feeling, one that resonates with the state of our world today.

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