There’s a distinct magic to Kurt Vonnegut’s work that is hard to replicate. In his world, the most horrible events can be met with a wry smile, while everyday banality is met with overwhelming terror.
George F. Walker channels the late author throughout “And So It Goes.” It’s not just that Vonnegut’s specter serves as a confidant for troubled souls Gwen and Ned. The couple’s descent from middle-aged, middle-class folks to homeless people ranting on a street corner is tinged with the same tragic absurdity of works like “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
Walker’s play is also perfect for Dark & Stormy Productions, the tiny company that has become a playground for some of the best actors in the Twin Cities. Like past works, “And So It Goes” offers a mix of pain, fear and humor. Toss in an intimate setting (the theater’s tiny studio space seats about 50) and you have a veritable feast for performers.
Sally Wingert and Robert Dorfman play Gwen and Ned. Their later years have been rocked by two events. Ned has lost his job as a financial planner and has been unable to find work (or unwilling; he doesn’t seem to have tried very hard). Far worse, their daughter Karen (Sara Marsh) is severely mentally ill.
Isolated from their former “friends,” the couple find different ways to cope. For Gwen, it’s through talks with her favorite author, Vonnegut (James Craven). It offers some small comfort, which she will need. Karen refuses to take her medications and the voices in her head take over. She runs away, lives on the streets and suffers a brutal fate.
Gwen and Ned’s troubles turn into a full-bore tailspin, as they move down the food chain and eventually become homeless. Gwen retreats further and further into herself and her talks with Vonnegut, while Ned lashes out at the world with vague revenge fantasies and — rather worryingly — starts to pack heat.
This isn’t a dour exercise in family disintegration. As we watch Ned and Gwen’s downfall, we get occasional kicks of absurdity and humor, such as his failed attempt to become a chef, or when she becomes the protector of all of the shoes at a homeless shelter.
Comedy and tragedy are a volatile mixture, but the acting company (under the able direction of Benjamin McGovern) handles it with aplomb. Marsh makes Karen’s mental illness real and visceral without resorting to cheap tricks. Craven is perfect as an imaginary guide through times. Wingert and Dorfman are the glue here. While their characters spend much of the play angry with each other, the actors always let us know that their love hasn’t died. It just needs a chance to come back.
Ed Huyck is a Twin Cities theater critic.