Also see Richard's review of The History Boys
Existentialism can be beautiful.
At least, if you can get your hands on enough wine and drugs to pass the time, with someone you care about.
Wait, that's more like heaven, isn't it?
It's hard to tell which is which in Losing Time, the newest work by playwright Robin Garrels. In a bow to Waiting for Godot, her heroines Rocket (Clara Moore) and Rio (Elizabeth Bolhafner) find themselves stranded in a wasteland on the eve of Y2K. Unlike Samuel Beckett's play, however, there is only a scary wooden mock-up of an old car to replace Didi and Gogo's woebegone little tree. But, regardless of the setting, Ms. Garrels' gift for establishing an instant sense of desolation remains extraordinary.
Ms. Moore, who looks like a cross between Betty Boop and Bette Davis, holds our attention with ease from the first moment, when they're chugging across the desert. Then the beautiful Ms. Bolhafner wakes up to find that they've run out of gas on a set of forgotten railroad tracks on the California/Arizona border. And from there on out, the girls are caught in a series of traps and psychological strangleholds that halt them at every turn.
Nevertheless, the tone is generally light and irreverent. A tour bus rumbles by without stopping, and a wacky Walter Huston type (John Strasser) comes and goes, sharing a funny recipe for chili. Old boyfriends and rivals turn up too, courtesy of some hallucinogenic cactus. As Rocket and Rio are left alone again and again, their hollowed-out car gradually begins to resemble a sun-bleached longhorn's skull. Meanwhile, their hopeless abandonment of Los Angeles becomes their own trail of tears.
Director Robert Strasser finds just the right mix of a resigned, slogging pace and prickly banter to lead us through this charming slacker/buddy-story. Comedy dashes by like mile markers: an evergreen air-freshener solves an interpersonal problem; and the playwright pokes fun at herself and her recent plays about space-aliens and drug addicts, as one of the girls announces melodramatically they've "slipped into another dimension." It's not that very much actually happens, except that they seem to be caught in a time-vortex, and dreams begin to seem more real than the dusty plain.
Of course, there's no wishing-well in the desert to kindle anyone's dreams. And if there was, knowing the Tin Ceiling Theatre as I do, a terrible monster would probably leap up out and devour one or both of them. So instead, they put their wishing pennies on the railroad tracks and shout with delight as the next monster roars by, smashing fate to facelessness.
For the moment (first in one time zone and then another) they can laugh at an indifferent world, squeezing from one millennium into another. And maybe for the post-Baby Boom generation, that's the best that can be hoped for.
Through September 30, 2007 at Compton and Cherokee Streets in South St. Louis. For information, call (314) 435-7834 or visit them on-line at www.tinceiling.org.
Poster Art: Damien Samways