One of the things that Beckett fans love about Beckett is the ability that he had of using the absurdist form to distill human emotional interactions down to their basics, without needing a lot of conventional expository writing. Playwright Michael Hagins’ “The Vengeance Room” is not only an homage to Beckett, it’s actually a good one, which isn’t something we often see. It’s also, in its own right, a fairly tense and quite fascinating approach to a genre we don’t often see onstage – horror.
Into a dimly lit room, complete with an assortment of weapons, five characters arrive, in various states of anxiety, some stumbling and coughing, some simply disoriented. They are strangers to one another. They are, to an extent, strangers to themselves. They don’t remember their names. They are unclear as to how they arrived. They discuss whether or not they have been kidnapped, but don’t recall anyone abducting them.
Eventually the weapons, a gun, a knife, a baseball bat, a sword, are spoken for, variously traded, and brandished with various degrees of success. Alpha Male “D”, played with confidence and pragmatism by Michael Mena, goes for the gun before anyone else arrives, hedging his bets. The bullying mean girl “X” comes in afterward, and chooses the sword, although her tongue is far sharper. As played by Ariel Leigh, X is a consummate shit-stirrer and wickedly fun to watch.
Ashley Lauren Rogers “G” is a sweet soul who wishes to harm no one, yet is bullied into wielding first the bat and then, eventually, the gun, though she’s got no fight in her we can discern. Rogers plays G with a sweetness and vulnerability that grounds the tension for the audience deftly, giving us someone we could potentially root for, though we don’t know why nor do we know what the circumstances around the tension quite are. Rounding out the cast is an apparent couple, the henpecked “M”, played with a terrific comic haplessness by Michael Moreno, and the fired-up “O”, played alternately sweet and sarcastic by the wonderful Kat Moreno.
As the characters circle around each other, each knowing the game is for one to kill all the rest in order to escape, Director Janelle Zapata manages the dramatic tension in the small space with great skill and respect for the form. And, most important, she never telegraphs any of the twists and turns, allowing the audience to go ahead and make assumptions that, I guarantee you, will turn out to have been false.
The Vengeance Room not only adds an exciting and interesting one-act piece to the canon of absurdist theatre pieces, it also provides something that contemporary theatre can often lack: fun.
The Vengeance Room will run at Kraine Theatre, 84 East 4th Street, on February 22nd at 10:30 PM, on February 24th at 8:20 PM, and on March 4th at 1:50 PM. For tickets, please visit the Frigid New York Festival website at http://www.horsetrade.info/frigid-festival-df84