Intriguing, riveting, and unsettling: Welcome to Laura Wade's Breathing Corpses.
The play, making its regional debut thanks to Glacity Theatre Collective, continues through Saturday in the old Frame Shop on Adams Street.
There are several deaths during the course of Wade's drama, but it's more sad than morbid, and the sadness comes from those who are living.
The play starts with a young motel maid, Amy (Risa Beth Cohen), finding the body of Jim (Dave DeChristopher), who has committed suicide.
The next scene takes us back a month, to when Jim and Elaine (Holly Monsos) are trying to cope with being empty nesters. Jim reads magazine ads for rent-an-adventure (Fly a MiG!) while Elaine pops into the family business, a self-storage place, to chat brightly and incessantly, trying to fill her time by mothering Jim's employee, Ray (Brad Arner).
The next scene take us to the apartment of the foul-mouthed, always angry Kate (Irene Alby), who takes her frustrations - physically and emotionally - out on her lover, Ben (Richard Furlong).
Each scene deals with a death. But each scene also deals with life, or the hollowness thereof.
Amy is in a dead-end job and she knows it. She even berates the dead Jim for not picking a better class of hotel in which to die.
"You wouldn't have to pay the credit-card bill," she reasons in a scene that's bleak and hilarious at the same time.
In the Jim-Elaine-Ray scene, Ray urges Jim to break into B16, which seems to be the source of a strange, strong odor. Jim is reluctant to get involved, but Elaine takes Ray's side. One gets the impression that this is how the Elaine-Jim relationship has always worked: Elaine siding with their sons, who now are reluctant to return home, and Jim passively going along with their demands, often against his better judgment. It won't be any different here.
Kate and Ben are toxic for each other, but they're tied together by Ben's love and Kate's need for a punching bag.
Kate's particularly angry because she had to walk Ben's dog, which she hates, and the dog found a body in the park, not a great way to start a Saturday, Kate says, sparing little if any sympathy for the victim. And when the dog won't stop barking, she gets really hateful.
The key to the play is a line from Sophocles, which explains that a "breathing corpse" is someone who has lost all happiness.
The characters are alive - or at least they start out that way - but they haven't the faintest idea how to be happy, picking and poking and prodding the people they love instead of enjoying them, wanting more things instead of finding contentment in what they have.
The story packs a lot of thought-provoking material into an 80-minute production (there's no intermission).
Directed by Cornel Gabara, the cast is uniformly excellent. Alby, Monsos, and Ben Pryor, who appears in the last scene, are faculty members at the University of Toledo, Arner and Cohen are UT theater majors, and DeChristopher and Furlong are professional actors. It's a strong mix that keeps us mesmerized even when the scenes are tough to watch.
Wade's play doesn't proceed in a linear fashion, instead bouncing around much like Pulp Fiction. Strangely, this helps to keep viewers' attention riveted, as we try to figure out how one scene relates to another.
I never did quite make all the connections; one element doesn't seem to fit.
Maybe that's Wade's intent. Time isn't important, she may be saying. People - and what they do with their lives - are.
That's one of many interpretations that have been bouncing around in my mind in the five days since I saw Breathing Corpses, proving that if Wade intended to have an impact on her audience, she, with the help of Glacity Theatre Collective, certainly succeeded.
Glacity Theatre Collective continues "Breathing Corpses" in the former Frame Shop at 1811 Adams St. Performances are at 8 p.m. today-Saturday. Tickets are $15 (cash or check only). Information and reservations: 419-530-2254.
Contact Nanciann Cherry at: email@example.com or 419-724-6130.