"They Are Dying Out"
If Don Draper had been created by Eugene Ionesco, one imagines the result would be quite similar to Peter Handke's "They Are Dying Out," as filtered through the intriguing aesthetics of director Max Truax.
Seldom produced since its 1973 premiere, Handke's play traces the existential angst of Hermann Quitt (Kevin Cox), an uber-capitalist who proclaims at the outset, "I feel sad today." His sadness translates into a sadistic need to humiliate his wife and assistant, betray his fellow business titans, and ultimately to murder a "minority stockholder."
Those who like their narratives neat may feel like they're stranded on the rocks of Handke's aphoristic thrusts of dialogue. "I was just remembering," says Quitt to his hapless secretary, Hans. "I've got to stop. Remembering makes me a good person." Despite an onstage murder, Quitt's psychological motivations are never explicated.
Fortunately, in addition to Cox, the ensemble includes fine absurdist turns from the rest of the cast. Jeremy Clark inhabits blustering business titan Von Wullnow. Antonio Brunetti brings terrier-like tenacity to striving and doomed stockholder Kilb, and Holly Thomas as Quitt's wounded blond wife is like a more vulnerable version of Betty Draper.
Through March 24 at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland Ave.; $20-$25 at 773-384-0494 or trapdoortheatre.com
Vulnerability is also the key to Tennessee Williams' Lady Torrance, the central figure in "Orpheus Descending," receiving a sturdy revival under Julieanne Ehre's direction for Shattered Globe. After her father, an Italian immigrant, was burned to death in his wine garden for selling booze to black men, Lady has lived like an indentured servant in a loveless marriage with the brutish (and now terminally ill) Jabe.
When Val, a guitar-slinging crooner in a snakeskin jacket, comes to town and starts working for her, Lady falls under his spell and for a brief time comes back to emotional life. But the Greek chorus of town harpies and hoodlums undermines the affair.
Eileen Niccolai's Lady cuts through Williams' hothouse vapors with a perfect combination of withering wit and sorrowful revelation. And when she folds her tiny physique into the towering beauty of Joseph Wiens' Val, we feel a combination of joy for these two lost souls — and a sense of impending doom.
Niccolai's performance is one of the best I've seen this year, and it shouldn't be missed.
Through March 11 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.; $28-$34 at 773-327-5252 or shatteredglobe.org