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Panic! Euphoria! Blackout

The Talking Band serves up a shiny bauble of a play about the uncertainty of the financial markets.

Paul Zimet, Mary Shultz, and Randolph Curtis Rand
in Panic! Euphoria! Blackout
(© Darien Bates)
The old avant-garde provocateurs have still got it! With Panic! Euphoria! Blackout, now premiering at HERE, the creative team known as The Talking Band takes on the economic roller-coaster ride of the past decade with wit, polish, and plenty of well-placed jabs.

As it happens, the play's prelude doesn't seem at all promising: Founding member Paul Zimet gathers the impatient playgoers crowded into the corridor outside the underground theater for a bit of show and tell. The play (scripted by Ellen Maddow) will have a circular structure, like the big 'O' printed on his shirt. A couple of conscripted audience members blow bubbles and strike a cymbal to represent - what else? - the stock market's ups and downs, while he reedily sings a little ditty beloved of his immigrant grandmother.

The opening scene (after the scramble for seats) doesn't bode well either. Two heads, topped with black hairnets, peer over the edge of a long table, where a glowing glass box attracts their acquisitive hands. They are Silverman and Ruben (Zimet and Randolph Curtis Rand), who lovingly enounce various commodities -- "amethyst, fossil fuel, orange juice" -- and soon are off and running, intensely trading shiny little objects as another head rises.

The head belongs to Ruth (the astoundingly focused, effortlessly expressive Mary Shultz), a seemingly benign little old lady who claims to love her bank so much, she wishes she could move in. Ruth's true colors soon emerge: she's a shark. "I'm a dabbler," she says aggressively. "I dabble and I always win big." The two men are never quite sure what to make of Ruth - is she "the top of the chain" or perhaps an utter fraud?

Ruben also has his own internal conflicts to cope with. A "former marble champion" he is sometimes prone to fits in which his hands assume a life of their own. Moreover, Ruben is obsessed with the microscopic workings of neural synapses, and posits some rather peculiar theories ("the toenail clock"?) that are likely to inspire hysteria. In spinning out the absurdities espoused by Ruben, Rand maintains an arch, in-on-the-joke air that's as mesmerizing as it is amusing.

For his part, Zimet is sometimes given to bathos, which can grate. But it pays off when Silverman, a so-called "ethical man," finds his job in jeopardy when he balks at the "more risk taking" mandate coming from higher up.

While the financial markets remain in flux, this shiny bauble of a play at least puts the issues out front, where we can turn them over in our hands.