The Ridiculous Darkness
Reviewed by Neal Weaver
Son of Semele Theatre
Through November 12
German playwright Wolfram Lotz’s play (translated by Daniel Brunet) is a zany satire on racism, racial stereotyping, and colonial attitudes in a supposedly post-colonial world. A farcical version of Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, via Apocalypse Now, it follows German Sergeant Oliver Pellner on a secret mission into the heart of Afghanistan, accompanied by his faithful aide, Stefan Dorsch (Ashley Steed).
As they float down a mysterious river, they encounter a Somali pirate (Taylor Hawthorne) intent on obtaining justice; a misguided U.N. adviser (Sarah Rosenberg) who tries to compel “uncivilized” locals to defecate and throw their trash in the river rather than on the ground; a native peddler (Alex Wells) who lives and works in his rowboat because his house and family were incinerated in a military raid; and a lecherous missionary (Rosenberg) who surrounds himself with nubile native maidens and doesn’t think religion has any business telling people how to live. (He also coaches his parishoners in singing hymns like “Wimoweh.”) But Kellner’s mission is to find and rescue one Colonel Deutinger (Wells) who has apparently cracked up and gone native.
Proceeding down the endless river and through the boundless forest, Pellner proves impervious to ordinary human feelings, and when Dorsch makes an attempt at friendship, he’s at a loss to react. As the trip wears on, Pellner becomes increasingly paranoid, to the point of considering murdering Dorsch. Soon they become convinced that the river has disappeared.
Lotz’s comedy was written as a radio play, which provides director Matthew McCray with the opportunity to have a creative field day. He responds with zest, enthusiasm and little respect for ordinary logic. The nubile maidens seem more Polynesian than Afghan, the characters are all demented in their own way, and comedy emerges even from the grimmest sources. The five actors (three of them playing multiple characters) acquit themselves with wit and enthusiasm. Via’s Pellner is blandly clueless, and Steed’s long-suffering Dorsch knows better than to question her superior. Hawthorne shines as a male Somali pirate, a sexy maiden, and others. Rosenberg makes comic hay as the arrogant U.N. trooper and the lecherous missionary, and Wells creates a gallery of grotesques: the philosophic peddler, a not-so-nubile maiden, and the increasingly mad Deutinger.
Set designer Michael Fitzgerald provides the cleverly flexible set, Vicki Anne Hales designed the costumes, and Azra King-Abadi is responsible for the atmospheric lighting. Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh did the video design, and John Rumi’s sound design provides a memorably startling moment.
Son of Semele Theatre, 3301 Beverly Boulevard, East Hollywood. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, 7 p.m.; sonofsemele.org. Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission.