Off Stage, A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company, at the Cornservatory. "Welcome to purgatory," a character says in Mike Spiegel's new play--and before long the audience will think the greeting was meant for them. Members of a bizarre group reenact their past traumas for a man they take hostage, hoping they'll open his eyes to the pain of the masses. Spiegel tries to make his consideration of racism, spousal abuse, and child molestation more peppy by having the characters behave like game-show contestants or sleazy talk-show guests. But the theatricality only lessens our empathy. And though the different media formats sharply comment on the way we glorify and embrace angst, the satire doesn't compensate for all the misery piled on over two hours.
It seems the point of this evening of unhappiness is to make us more aware of others' suffering. But why would the one character who does reach out be rewarded with the opportunity to relive his own pain over and over as part of a brainwashed cult? As directed by Michael Buino, the show offers glimpses of humor and amusing or affecting acting, but not enough to offset the onslaught of despair. Ultimately we don't feel the characters' pain so much as hope to be put out of our own misery.