Wallace Shawn, Evening at The Talk House, NT Dorfmann, March 16th 2016

A report from Simon Jenner

A reunion of six characters where they used to meet, a run-down club and kindly owner Nellie, with failed actress Jane returned to help serve faded culinary delights, so it’s not quite My Dinner with André crossed with the wilder reaches of Albee. Nevertheless Shawn himself in the pivotal role of drunk ex-actor Dick, starts with reminiscence – interrupting Robert the dramatist’s monologue – and ends with a flock of murderers.

It’s the tenth anniversary of Robert’s play, the point at which he sold out becoming a successful TV writer alongside his favourite actor Tom (wholesome Simon Shepherd), who’d starred in the role Dick should have had – and movingly reads out later – but for Robert’s fissure of unpleasant irrational hatreds, ably smarmed by Josh Hamilton. What begins as a luvvy-in of sell-out and sell-up swiftly explores the nature of arbitrary terminations abroad of – as Dick calls them unerringly – sheep-farmers – then actors and others who’ve unaccountably crossed a line. Friends have beaten up Dick as a warning; later we hear others butcher old friends.

Most disquietingly, costume designer Annette (calmly sibylline Naomi Wirthner) and composer Ted reveal their chilling trade: state terminators, which they’d hoped was discreet. Jane’s Sinéad Matthews memorably reveals her survival after a stalled theatrical career: chilled, chilling distaste for murderous posts to Nigeria and poisoned scratchings or close and personal angel-of-mercy dispatches. Indeed her earnings keep The Talk House afloat.

It’s clear this isn’t going to end well, but Shawn’s dialogic envelope remains striking for the refusal of the party to address these revelations as more than inconveniences, with only two demurrals. This turning-away is finally turned on its head, though Shawn’s tightrope-walk between naturalist fabulism and downright surreal fable requires a small suspension bridge of disbelief. There’s a disconnect with how we think we rationalize, and Shawn’s rationale for these extractions of humanity. The wobble, the chasm even is psychological. Shawn’s one great stroke here is Matthews’ self-loathing death-wish, which like the play isn’t resolved but pursues her after its abrupt conclusion.

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