Review: They Are Dying Out (Trap Door Theatre)

| February 22, 2012
They Are Dying Out 

Written by Peter Handke
Translated by Michael Roloff
Directed by Max Truax  
at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (map)
thru March 24  |  tickets: $20-$25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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Trap Door brings an absurdly funny tale of advertising to the stage


Trap Door Theatre presents
They Are Dying Out

Review by J.H. Palmer

Trap Door Theatre’s They Are Dying Out relies heavily on sound; from the opening scene, when old radio advertisements for Rice Krispies and Virginia Slims fill the air, to moments throughout the piece when the actors mime filling invisible glasses with invisible liquor and setting them down on a table. At the beginning of the first scene, Hermann Quitt (Kevin Cox) has his back turned to the audience as the opening strains of Amadeus’ Requiem begin to play, a piece of music which is used in snippets throughout, underscoring the title of the play.

The spare set, consisting of two pieces of furniture, two doors, and a translucent wall, is used to maximum effect; this play is not about objects, but the ideas behind objects – ideas that get planted in our minds, whether we want them there or not. Equally effective is the costuming, which evokes an earlier era of glamour without going over the top.

This play is part farce, part drama; the situation – employees of an advertising company grappling with the preposterousness of their chosen profession, brings to mind a sort of fringe “Mad Men” with all the glamour, but none of the comforts, and twice the existential angst.

Herman Quitt is the center of the story; he is the head of the agency, and is cold, deliberate, and unflappable. He has a wife and a mistress, and it takes a while to figure out which one is which. Holly Thomas plays Quitt’s Wife with an absurdist twist; she spends the first several scenes dramatically walking in and out of rooms, casting looks of bemused alarm at the audience and the actors, expressing a sense of nonsensical drama without saying a word. Her first spoken line is aimed at Quitt while filling out a crossword puzzle: “Austrian dramatist, dead, 7 letters.” “What did you do today?” Quitt asks her. “You saw what I did,” comes the reply, “I walked in and out and back and forth.” She is angry and controlled, but not afraid to lose her shit when the situation calls for it.

Language takes center stage in this piece; terse, pointed sentences that evoke the hard-boiled lines of Mamet are sustained throughout: “I don’t have my cane with me; I refuse to touch you with my bare hands.” “Perhaps you’re the kind of person who likes to squeeze other people’s pimples.” “I noticed that I happened to think of you disgustingly by chance.” And, “competition is a game, fighting is childish.”

As Paula Tax, Kasey Foster brings a WASP-ey tightness to the role of Quitt’s horse-riding mistress, putting me in the mind of Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith as she delivered clipped, precise lines on subjects like the idea of advertising as a kind of consciousness-raising. Antonio Brunetti plays Franz Kilb, the minority stock holder who owns one share of countless companies, and spends his life traveling from one stockholders meeting to another. Sam Quinn plays Hans, Quitt’s wide-eyed assistant, knocking the absurdist humor up a notch with lines like: “I don’t want to have to go on shaking my head like this much longer.” Harald Von Wullnow (Jeremy Clark), Lutz (Casey Chapman), and Berthold Koerber-Kent (Alex Levin) are Quitt’s co-workers and co-conspirators in the world of advertising, laughing too loudly at his jokes, and withstanding humiliations like having their pants pulled down to their ankles (they perform the entire second act in boxer shorts).

This play is by turns laugh-out-loud funny and absurdly devastating, and the actors aren’t afraid to use the entire space of the theater; several times during the play they step off the stage and into the close quarters of the audience, creating a blur between the worlds of actors and audience. Time spent with this theater company is always surprising; this play is strong throughout and the end scene is remarkable and dark.

Rating: ★★★

They Are Dying Out continues through March 24th at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland (behind Jane’s Restaurant, map), with performances Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8pm.  Tickets are $20-$25 (2-for-1 pricing on Thursdays), and are available at  More information at time: 2 hours, which includes one 10-minute intermission)




Antonio Brunetti, Casey Chapman, Jeremy Clark, Kevin Cox, Kasey Foster, Alex Levin, Holly Thomas, Sam Quinn

behind the scenes

Max Truax (director); Mike Mroch (set design); Eric Van Tassell (lighting); Tonette Navarro (costumes); Jonathan Guillen (sound); Gary Damico (stage manager); Allison Raynes (production manager); Zsofia Otvos (makeup); Michal Janicki (graphics)


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Category: 2012 Reviews, J.H. Palmer, Trapdoor Theatre

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