We live in an age of unsurpassed existential dread. The ravaged environment, the unforgiving economy and the chances of nuclear war are grimly relevant topics that encircle us like hungry vultures. Our era’s sense of inherited doom makes it hard to believe that it’s kind to bring children into this world, but we reproduce all the same.
That rationality sets the tone for In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises), a two person play written by Nina Segal. Currently onstage at Know Theatre through Feb. 8, it stars Elizabeth Chinn Molloy and Brandon Burton.
As the audience files in before the show, Man (Burton) sits on a couch in a dilapidated apartment with his back turned to the audience. He watches a photo slideshow projected onto the back wall. Images alternate between typical lifestyle snapshots — formal functions, Woman (Molloy) smiling with friends, Man posing with his dessert at a table — and grim photographs of natural and man-made disasters: floods, fires, tarp-covered shanty towns and trash-strewn streetscapes. The world falling apart in between innocuous smiles.
Woman and Man are new parents and their baby, portrayed onstage by a backpack, won’t stop crying. The 60-minute performance follows them through a sleepless night tending to the baby’s needs, coping with the big questions that are in the back of everyone’s minds when hope is in short supply.
Woman and Man narrate the show as if reading a book about themselves. Despite the unorthodox dialogue this creates, Molloy and Burton’s characters are clearly fleshed out thanks to excellent performances and the script’s carefully selected details.
The parents try everything they can to soothe the implacable child. Tensions run high in their home and eventually the scope of discussion expands far beyond their personal grievances and onto a global scale. At the show’s climax, their apartment is blown apart by outside forces.
The set looks more like a squatter den with its scattering of empty liquor bottles and newspapers than a bombed-out family home — the latter presumably the intention — but this does not distract from Segal’s philosophically declarative script that addresses the horrors of conscientious parenting in a dying age.
After their apartment’s implied destruction, Woman finds an egg in the rubble. She and Man marvel at its ability to remain intact despite their best efforts to crush it in their hands. It’s a popular parlor trick, since eggshells are incredibly durable when pressure is applied to their strongest points — the top and bottom of the oval — but it serves as a potent thesis for the show. It’s a touching moment, but its dark follow-up occurs after the show concludes when you realize that just a few scenes earlier Woman said she intended to cook eggs and toast for breakfast. Even though the egg seemed impervious, it’ll be no match for the skillet.
The show is not heavily plot driven as much as it is a declaration of philosophical observations framed around a simple story. There’s plenty to discuss after a performance of In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises); and for someone not yet enamored with the stage, it could make for an accessible first play.
Whether you leave the show with a positive or negative reaction largely depends on your outlook on life. Unsure whether you’re an optimist or pessimist? This is required theater.
In the Night Time (Before the Sun Rises) runs through Feb. 8 at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine). Tickets/more info: knowtheatre.com.