Ten years after the premiere of his play, Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars, Robert (Matthew Broderick) gets together with his cast and crew at their old haunt, the Talk House. Robert and his star, Tom (Larry Pine), have moved on to a sitcom, Tony and Company. Producer Bill (Michael Tucker) has become a talent agent, while composer Ted (John Epperson) and wardrobe supervisor Annette (Claudia Shear) have fallen on harder times. So has the Talk House, whose proprietor, Nellie (Jill Eikenberry), allows the fallen star Dick (Wallace Shawn) to crash upstairs. Their regular waitress, Jane (Annapurna Sriram), had some brief success as an actress before returning to her old job. And the theater itself has suffered—only “eleven people still put on plays,” according to Annette.
But there’s more to this than nostalgia. Only about halfway through the play do we realize that Mr. Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House is set in a future where elections are held every three months and a process known as “targeting”—in which freelancers identify people to be executed by the government—has become commonplace. To the rich liberals sitting on Annette’s overstuffed furniture, the practice is barbaric. To Ted, Annette, and Jane, it’s a living.
The premise is interesting, particularly in a world where drone warfare has become a commonplace. And the way in which Mr. Shawn only introduces the subject tangentially echoes writes like Eugène Ionesco and Harold Pinter, who often addressed state violence through indirection. Still, it feels as if Mr. Shawn has not fully fleshed out his ideas; there is something ultimately unfulfilling about this dystopia. Of course, I have no problem with vagueness, so long as the author has a firm hold on his material. But the gaps in Evening at the Talk House feel unintentional, as if even Mr. Shawn does not know what is going on outside of these walls.
While many of the actors do a fine job, Mr. Broderick, whose narration frames the play, employs his usual chirpy delivery and proves that he cannot suit his demeanor to the role he has been assigned; he fails to achieve the ominous and reflective tone I suspect Mr. Shawn is after. As for Mr. Shawn, who has been a New York staple for decades, he is certainly in a position to chronicle the unsteady lives of artists, and Evening‘s best moments come when the gang, loosened by liquor, talk shop. But as for science fiction, his script requires a few more rewrites before it will be up to snuff.