Theater review: 'Playing Dead'

March 05, 2010|By Tim Smith | tim.smith@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

In "Playing Dead," a 2002 dark comedy by the intriguing Russian duo the Presnyakov brothers, a young man finds an unusual way to confront his issues with death: He gets hired to act out the role of murder victims at crime re-enactment scenes. Dicey work, if you can get it.

With a well-tuned ear for the ironic, the absurd and the naughty, the Presnyakovs created a deft little play that, in a new translation by Juanita Rockwell, gets an effective workout from Single Carrot Theatre. Director Yury Urnov has the cast tearing cleverly through the compact space (Joey Bromfield designed the set and lighting) in well-timed fashion.

Christopher Ashworth is especially telling as the caffeinated Police Captain, who might be marginally interested in the truth as he manipulates presumed criminals and Valia, the play-dead assistant, with equal ferocity. Rich Espey shines in the double assignment of Valia's dead father and possibly evil uncle (a touch of "Hamlet" flitters through the play).

Nathan Fulton's Valia is rather pale, by contrast; more nuance would particularly help the climactic scene, when the victim-imitator gets some victimizing ideas of his own. Giti Jabaily is fun as Valia's vacant girlfriend and, especially, as a valley-girl-gone-wild policewoman. Nathan Cooper throws himself into portrayals of three vividly different murder suspects. The rest of the cast provides able support.

"Playing Dead" is engaging enough on the surface, a sort of "Saturday Night Live" sketch spread out on Russian wry. But the Presnyakovs have a lot of deeper, provocative stuff up their sleeves, which this production engagingly unfurls.

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