New School of Northern Virginia The Killing GameBy Cappies • Mar 8th, 2013 • Category: Cappies
A death toll is rising at an exponential rate. Mandatory quarantines condemn entire households. The haunting, blank stare of each corpse. A plague is no joking matter. But add a touch of the absurd, and an already tumultuous world is turned on its head again in unexpected ways. The New School of Northern Virginia found a way to laugh in the face of death with its thought-provoking production of The Killing Game.
The Killing Game was written by Eugene Ionesco in 1971. Titled Jeux de Massacre in its original French, the play is in the style of Theatre of the Absurd, a literary movement closely associated with the philosophy of existentialism. In a series of vignettes, the show tells the story of a city struck by a mysterious, terrifying plague which kills thousands upon thousands of citizens without any prior symptoms or indications of illness. The scenes focus on characters as diverse as an elderly couple on a walk, a hypochondriacal master and his servants, and the increasingly irrational city council as people of all walks of life attempt to grapple with terror, paranoia, and the inevitability of death.
The New School’s eight ensemble cast members each portrayed a wide variety of distinct characters, in addition to functioning as the production’s stage crew. They were practically overflowing with infectious energy and clearly relished every moment onstage. Their unbridled enthusiasm for performance was refreshingly authentic. The group dynamic was incredibly cohesive, down to such details as the precise synchronicity of members donning hats at the beginning of each new scene.
The Killing Game‘s onstage troupe all worked well as a company, but Jonathan Halverson stood out from the group as especially adept at Ionesco’s absurdist style. While some members of the cast struggled to balance comedy with the need to take themselves seriously within their portrayals, Halverson committed fully to a surfeit of ridiculous roles. His commanding stage presence allowed him to seize the unwavering attention of the audience even when delivering extended monologues. Halverson also demonstrated a remarkable gift for physical acting and clowning, shown to most uproarious effect in his turn as an upper class germaphobe. His histrionic facial expressions and exaggeratedly sudden death perfectly encapsulated the hyperbolic nature of absurdism.
The tech elements of the production contributed to the actualization of the show’s overall conceptual goals. The well-fitted white costumes of the cast were an inspired nod to the clinical and sterile environment of a hospital ward, and the plethora of hats were an effective method of distinguishing between the different characters, particularly as the actors and actresses transitioned between multiple personas. One of the production’s high points, technical or otherwise, was a Powerpoint presentation which accompanied the impassioned speech of a rebellious politician in the town square. The brusque text of each slide and the intentionally insensitive graphs were instrumental in illuminating the absurd nature of the situation.
Sometimes, the only way to find significance when events seem utterly nonsensical and meaningless is to laugh. The New School of Northern Virginia brought a dose of levity to the darkest of settings with their fascinating production of The Killing Game.
by Madelyn Paquette of McLean High School
Photos by John Potter
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