A coach breaks down, as he's breaking down his season. A man and a woman record dating videos, hoping for a connection. A public-relations executive gets honest with the public.
These are the vulnerable human types sketched by playwright Will Eno in "Oh, The Humanity and other good intentions," a collection of five slender vignettes, being produced by the Peanut Butter Factory at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis.
Eno's work embodies the tension of genius -- terse, elliptical verse that tilts toward high art, yet blossoms with compassion. Eno's characters in "Oh the Humanity" proclaim the best intentions and quiet despair of you, me, the guy and gal next door, the folks down the street. Were Eno not so crisp and avant-garde, one might secretly think him a sentimentalist. The Peanut Butter production, directed by Natalie Novacek, beautifully understands the simplicity at Eno's core.
The common theme here is the universal dream for better things. Matt Sciple plays a coach giving a postseason press conference. Things have gone badly this season and the coach eschews bromides for a psychological skinny dip into his emotions. ESPN would run this clip for days and we would laugh at the coach cracking up. Well yes, perhaps he has cracked a little, wondering about his future, about his purpose, a woman he yearns for, a team that tried but could not succeed. Sciple shows us a man whose sin it was to care.
Christopher Kehoe and Mo Perry portray the video daters. Perry, in particular, nails the poetic whimsy with a self-deprecating sense of awareness. "I have been described as the girl next door -- by the neighbors," she says, absolutely charming us with nothing more than a dumb little joke. Kehoe, too, gets across a sweaty desperation not built of histrionic emotion, but hope. We leave this scene honestly wishing both of them the best.
Perry plays a spokeswoman for an airline that reports a plane crash. "Gravity, we trust, was a factor," she says with such a clumsy and agonizing honesty that we almost shed a tear for her. She pathetically tries to comfort the survivors, telling them, "We hope your loved ones were enjoying the in-flight movie," and then pointing out that we're all going to die, anyway; these passengers just went at a different speed. Hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.
Sciple and Kehoe portray photographers trying to recreate a photo from the Spanish-American War, "The Bully Composition." The two argue whether the photo was taken before a battle on San Juan Hill, or after. Does it matter, Sciple asks? Yes, Kehoe argues. Were these men mortally afraid of the coming battle, or were they relieved that they survived?
All three actors appear in the finale, in which Kehoe and Perry just can't seem to get where they want to go -- nor can they agree on where they are going: a baptism or a funeral. Even in this moment of meta-theatrical abstraction, Eno centers his work in the human heart.
Eno is a refreshing treat and Novacek's production has just the right sensibility about it. What more do you want?