The Not-So-Hot Seat

A work of substance may lurk beneath Adam Bock's flimsy play about an environmental disaster on a pig farm

Beyond Marion, only Heather Basarab's emotional lighting effects seem to go beyond the perfunctory. In one sequence, when all the actors leave the stage, the lights actually perform a narrative function. They take us from the clean white of Marion's living room to the floodlit pig farm, then to the fiery reds of an environmental activist group's 3 a.m. arson attack at the farm, and finally back to Marion's place subdued by darkness in the middle of the night. Theater productions rarely give this much space to their lighting designers, a fact that seems all the more surreal in this wisp of a play. I found myself wishing that Bock had given himself similar permission to develop his dialogue, characters, themes, and ideas.

Rumor has it that a couple of Bock's recent works, The Receptionist and The Thugs, though equally short, are extremely powerful. Both have been exciting critics and audiences in New York. The Thugs, in particular, got theatergoers talking, with its depiction of an unnerving, unknown evil taking place just beyond the fringes of the banal workplace set. I'd like to see those plays someday, not least because their success indicates Bock's ability to craft a really punchy hour-long play.

Characters dying to break out of a minimalist play.
Liz Lisle
Characters dying to break out of a minimalist play.

Details

By Adam Bock. Through Jan. 27. Tickets are $20-$30; call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org.
Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby (at Martin Luther King Jr.), Berkeley

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Even so, I'm wondering if theater companies aren't selling us short by marketing what essentially constitutes half of a program of one-act plays as a full evening's theatrical experience. Brevity isn't always the soul of wit. Perhaps if Encore and Shotgun had presented The Shaker Chair as part of a two-hour offering with The Thugs or The Receptionist, I would have come away feeling that I'd actually been at the theater rather than just poked my head through the door.

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