ESCURIAL, Hunger and Dread, at No Exit Cafe. The crazed King in Michel de Ghelderode’s avant-garde 1928 play calls for his jester to amuse him. The King’s young and beautiful queen is dying, but instead of praying for her peaceful passing, he aims to torment the jester, Folial. The play’s title indicates a historical context: the reign of 16th-century Spanish king Philip the Second. And the playwright’s identification of Folial as Flemish–Ghelderode’s countryman–hints at political issues.

HIstorical accuracy seems to be of small concern to the Hunger and Dread ensemble, however. Their production of Escurial is dominated by a towering welded-steel throne flanked by an antennalike scepter–which resembles a radio broadcast tower–and swathed in yards of red velvet. Court fashions consist of thrift-store apparel cobbled together in futuristic configurations. And aural ambience is provided by a recorded montage of tolling bells, distressed dogs, and ominous protogoth music.

Director Lance E. Adams and his actors–notably Mike Driscoll as the vindictive monarch and Jonathan Townsager as his doomed servant–strive mightily to assert their authority over the set pieces and unruly costumes with vigorous, almost operatic performances. If the technical effects ultimately triumph, it’s not for any lack of trying on the part of the artists.