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Review: 'Killing Game' at Unknown Theatre

December 18, 2008 |  4:15 pm

Written in 1970 (the same year its author was elected to the French Academy), Eugene Ionesco’s “Killing Game” is hardly hearty holiday fare. But if you like your humor dark-hued, the production at Unknown Theater might be your ticket.

The play opens on a sunlit village square as its denizens go about their business. The halcyon scene is rudely interrupted when twin infants are found dead in their perambulator. Dire as they may seem, those deaths are just a precursor. Panic erupts as a mysterious plague sweeps the city. People scream, run in circles, drop dead with hilarious expedience. Before the first scene is over, everyone on stage has succumbed. (Not to worry, though. The actors all play multiple roles and will return to die anew.)

As the dead proliferate, the quarantined, trapped and terrified townspeople search for an explanation or cause. Some blame the politicians. The wealthy blame the poor. But this is an equal opportunity malady that strikes all, regardless of social status, political affiliation or creed.

As the chaos escalates, black flats, lettered with words such as “mercy,” “harmony” and “hope,” reverse to reveal antithetical terms: “cruelty,” “ignorance,” “despair,” and so forth. Chris Covics’ striking production design is a highlight. Yet Covics, who also directs, sometimes struggles to bridge the gap between the harrowing and the humorous.

A later, lesser work of Ionesco, “Game” affirms that the flimsy fabric of civilization can unravel without warning. It’s a blatant message, blatantly delivered here. Most of the performers are professionally proficient, but a few lack necessary subtlety. A notable exception is Kathy Bell Denton, whose gentle underplaying is a welcome respite from the occasional histrionics. However, Ionesco’s durable gallows humor transcends the imperfections in this otherwise worthy evening.

— F. Kathleen Foley

Killing Game,” Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 21. $24. (323) 466-7781. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.