THANATOS, National Pastime Theater. Good news for the Jeff Committee: they can put their feet up for the rest of the year now that National Pastime has given them the best director, ensemble, and production in one fell swoop. But National Pastime will probably get scratched since all their exquisite work is in service of Ron Simonian’s somewhat clever, passably intriguing, but ultimately inconsequential play Thanatos. Ted, a Red Cross “catastrophe specialist” investigating yet another grisly industrial accident, is holed up in a cheap hotel with his terminally uninteresting coworker Sam. Ted’s career in death has produced a whopper of an existential crisis, and while Sam is off on an adulterous romp, Ted meets a wacky exterminator, a wacky security guard, and a wacky performance artist similarly obsessed with death. Despite a knack for dialogue and an above-average talent for building scenes, Simonian can’t squeeze much more than easy cliches from death’s awesome mystery.

But you’d never know it watching director Dado’s whip-smart cast, who make just about every moment of Thanatos engrossing. Dado’s crisply paced, unapologetic staging strikes the perfect note of morbid frivolity, and her actors compensate for Simonian’s often stereotypical characters by crafting well-nuanced caricatures. Best of all, they understand what they want from one another at every moment, giving the play the sense of urgency it needs. In short, National Pastime again reminds us what real acting and directing look like–as opposed to all the overwrought hysterics that too often rack up the awards.

–Justin Hayford