Eugène Ionesco’s Killing Game, first produced in 1970, will always be relevant—which paradoxically explains its dramatic ineffectiveness. It’s set in an unnamed town visited by a vicious, unaccountable plague. Death roams the streets unfettered (personified in this Red Orchid production as a towering, black-clad night terror lumbering purposefully across the stage throughout the evening). As tens of thousands drop without warning every week, the besieged living respond in all-too- familiar ways: blaming the victims for their immorality, carelessness, or ignorance; insisting that wealth, science, religion, or government can save everyone; cowering before authoritarian officialdom or fomenting insurrection against it.
Of course, this plague is pure metaphor, every society’s perceived existential threat du jour. And since we humans always need to believe that threat exists, preferably wielded by those we’re already primed to hate, the play naturally reflects any moment of social upheaval. But Ionesco is largely content to demonstrate the predictable ossification of deeply entrenched political, religious, and moral divisions through a series of flashpoint scenes. The broad absurdist tropes he characteristically deploys further simplify everything.
Director Dado takes a scattershot approach to the text, employing various devices—video, face masks, hand puppets, campy costuming, even kitchen utensils—in nearly every scene, creating little opportunity for ideas to develop or deepen. Understandably, her game cast, featuring several of the city’s finest actors—each awkwardly carrying a stylized artificial limb for 100 minutes—never find a way to settle into this unsettled stage world. v