The Gift Theatre’s production of “Oh, the Humanity (and other exclamations)” is like staring at your reflection in the bottom of a whiskey glass, that brief moment of perspective that only comes after a long and lonely night. A collection of 5 short plays that runs only an hour, “Oh, the Humanity” nonetheless tackles subjects that man has pondered for millennia: namely life and the meaning of it. More often than not, the plays are little more than monologues, the simplest vehicles possible for Eno’s touching ruminations. Director Michael Patrick Thornton obviously understands that the words provided need no embellishment. His production is simple, honest and heartbreaking.
With one exception, each of play consists of a direct address: a losing football coach at a press conference, a pair of lonely singles recording videos for a dating service, a spokeswoman for an airline following a tragic crash and a pair of photographers using the audience to recreate a classic photograph. They start in something resembling the realm of reality, but quickly spin out into a kind of inner monologue unfurled. The hope, the fear, the longing that lies jut beneath the surface of everyday speech is laid bare. (Luckily, Eno also has a quick wit and a delightful absurdist streak too, lest the mood get too heavy.) In the final, titular play, a couple cannot remember if they’re late for a christening or a funeral or maybe both. As though there were a difference.
The Gift’s lean cast of 3 (Brittany Burch, John Farrugio and John Gawlik) play Eno’s soaring language close to their chests, most often they are simply speaking, plainly and with little affectation, almost as if they reciting an ancient prayer. Where some actors might shout or bellow to convey emotion, their voices crack or their gaze turns inward. They stand alone on an almost blank stage (set by Thornton and David Preis) and they exist. Anything more would be too much, anything less would pretty much be silence.