Theater artists Natalie Novacek and Christopher Kehoe are acting on their enthusiasm for playwright Will Eno. They are producing Eno's "Oh the Humanity and Other Good Intentions," opening Friday at Intermedia Arts in south Minneapolis.
Eno, from New York City's Brooklyn borough, has a small but fervent following in the theater world. Locally, the only production of note was Emigrant Theater's staging of "Thom Pain (based on nothing)" in 2007. He's difficult, and his dialogue demands attention. But as with any strong flavor, Eno has his rabid fans and his detractors. New York Times critic Charles Isherwood wrote that he considered Eno "a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation." To which a Seattle critic retorted, "hogwash."
Eno, 46, has his credentials. He won a Guggenheim and an Edward Albee Foundation fellowship. "Thom Pain" was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in drama, and his play "The Flu Season" won an Oppenheimer Award. His other plays include "Tragedy: a tragedy" and "King: A problem Play."
Novacek, who is directing the five short pieces that make up "Oh the Humanity," introduced Kehoe to the playwright. And Kehoe now is among those who resonate with Isherwood's assessment.
"That quote is spot-on," Kehoe said. "The dialogue is so stark and blatant. But whereas Beckett is decades old, this is so contemporary and fresh."
Kehoe and Novacek have rounded up actors Mo Perry and Matt Sciple for this production. Novacek got to know Perry during the run of "Babe" at Children's Theatre Company, and persuaded the actor to break her policy of not doing summer theater.
"We were able to talk her into it," Kehoe said.
Kehoe had stage-managed for Sciple previously and invited him to audition. Sciple is best known as a director, but he's acted many times with Ten Thousand Things, Jon Ferguson and Fifty-foot Penguin. Perry has created several indelible performances the past few years on Twin Cities stages. Her work is a sure bet.
All three actors appear together in the final piece of the evening. Otherwise, these are solos or two-handers. In one piece, a football coach waxes philosophical at the end of a losing season. In another, two actors portray photographers who are photographing the audience. The final scenario illustrates a couple sitting in chairs, pretending they are in a car -- a familiar convention. The third person enters the scene and sees the reality that these are chairs, not a car -- which leads to her nervous breakdown. Eno has described the characters in these shows as "attempting to present themselves in the best light, or ultimately, desperately, in any light."
Said Kehoe of Eno: "He plays with postmodern theatrical ideas."