Seventy Scenes of Halloween, Broutil & Frothingham Productions, at the Theatre Building Chicago. Jeffrey Jones’s 1980 play can be seen as either a subtle exploration of contemporary relationships or an overly coy bit of writerly masturbation, depending on how well it’s produced and how generous one wants to be. This quintessential game-playing postmodern playwright employs a myriad of tricks–withholding information, repeating scenes with subtle variations, breaking rules of conventional narrative, providing contradictory information about his characters–to keep the audience in the dark about the couple at the center of this black comedy.
Another way to look at it is that Jones gives directors and actors a lot of room to interpret the script. Director Stephanie Shaw–a former cast member of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind– treats Jones’s short, fragmented scenes as if they were a series of little Neo-Futurist plays, each self-contained but possibly connected to the scenes around it. The strategy works, in part because, like all good Neo-Futurists, Shaw has a strong, subtle sense of humor. More important, she’s coaxed powerful performances from her cast, playing the darker currents in Jones’s play without overdoing them. The ensemble is led by a wonderfully brittle Robyn Coffin and lumbering Brian Posen, who reveals an emotional depth I’d never before suspected in this likable but sometimes shallow comic actor.