New Edgecliff Theatre returns to Fringe with Will Eno’s 2008 TRAGEDY: a tragedy in which a local television news anchor and three reporters in the field cover the unfolding media drama of “the event of ‘night.’” Is it merely nightfall as usual? Or does the apocalypse come under the cloak of darkness?
Eno is equal parts comedian and philosopher, poet and existentialist. (His play Thom Paine (based on nothing) mystified Ensemble Theatre audiences back in 2006.) In often-beautiful prose, TRAGEDY speaks to sensationalism, making something of nothing while at the same time making the mundane exceptionally alluring. The conflict is cerebral, so the resolution is tricky; while TRAGEDY starts well, it lags and ends unmemorably.
The cast is strong. Dennis Blom is Frank, the veteran broadcast journalist in the studio, now pretty much on autopilot. Eno loves words, and each character seems to be given a backstory for his or her own poetic repetition. For Frank, words have lost meaning. They jumble and tumble as he fumbles around, distracted. Blom plays Frank full-on weary throughout and could have used a bit more modulation to create his sad arc.
Kate Glasheen, Tyler Minton and Lauren Showen play Michelle, John and Constance, reporters in the field, with Chris Bishop as the wonderfully doofy witness. Glasheen’s Michelle is a tightly wound legal consultant who reports from the steps of various state and court houses. Showen’s Constance is well intentioned and erratic, as likely to be shagging the cameraman on break as holding her own with Frank in the studio. Minton’s John is laugh-out-loud funny throughout. He is a young reporter with a bad heart and a thing for dogs. According to the program, this is his stage debut. Look for more from Minton. He is highly watchable.
All in all, TRAGEDY is strong Fringe fare from director Jim Stump. New Edgecliff picks terrific material for ensemble casts, and this certainly counts. Yet what sets the baseline for the play’s essential storyline of “aloneness” makes it also difficult to resolve. The characters are disconnected from each other as they report from different locations, and that makes it challenging to build tension. Stump and cast do as well as they can with the material (not to mention with the logistics of a 15-minute load-in to the coffee shop performance space).
The Coffee Emporium venue doesn’t have the best sightlines but if you are early before the morph from coffee shop to theatre, you can sit at a cozy table or higher stool on the edges and take in some existential comedy with your late-night latte.
TRAGEDY will be performed 7 p.m. May 30, 9 p.m. June 1, 8:45 p.m. June 4, 7:15 p.m. May 5 at Coffee Emporium (110 E. Central Parkway).