JACK, OR THE SUBMISSION and THE FUTURE IS IN EGGS, Hypocrites, at the Viaduct Theatre. Eugene Ionesco is not for the timid–or the literal. His characters turn into rhinoceroses, are pushed offstage by growing stacks of chairs, or speak to each other in the stilted phrases of foreign-language textbooks. But in the hands of a sensitive director, Ionesco’s absurd little pieces become witty, moving critiques of contemporary society.

Sean Graney is such a director. His production of these related one-acts reveals the unsuspected depths of two outwardly silly plays. Both involve a balky, childish young man named Jack, strong-armed into marriage in the first play and reluctantly becoming a father in the second. At the end of the first, Jack, or the Submission, Jack and his intended, Roberta, discover in true Ionesco style that the most efficient way to communicate is to substitute “cat” for every word they say. Thus “Let’s go to sleep” becomes “Cat cat cat cat.” Where another company might play this absurd decision strictly for laughs, under Graney’s tutelage Steve Wilson and Deb Heinig ride its emotional undercurrent and move us even as we chuckle at two people purring “cat cat cat” at each other.

Even more remarkable is how gracefully Graney and his cast transform the rather obvious surreal humor of The Future Is in Eggs–in which Roberta gives birth to nearly a dozen of the titular objects–into a meditation on mortality. –Jack Helbig