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Friday, November 8, 2013

Zero Hour at Off the Wall

Posted By on Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 3:14 PM

At least half the reason I was eager to see this show, which closes Saturday, is that playwright Madeleine George also wrote Precious Little, one of the best new plays I’ve seen in recent years.

Zero Hour (2010) isn’t quite as elegantly woven as that earlier work, which City Theatre staged beautifully in 2011. But if you liked Precious Little — or, really, if you like plays about both people and ideas, delivered in succinct but beautiful language — you’ll also find much to like in Zero Hour.

Daina Michelle Griffith (left) and Erika Cuenca

The play’s about two lovers in New York City: O, a proud lesbian who seldom leaves their loft, and Rebecca, who won’t admit she’s a lesbian. Rebecca writes children’s educational texts for a living, and she’s currently struggling with the impossible task of developing one for grade-schoolers on the Holocaust.

What’s especially attractive about George’s writing is, simply, how she thinks: She has ideas, some heretical, and she boldly blends them together on the page. And there’s nothing easy or sanctimonious about how she approaches even so sacred a cow as the Holocaust. At one point, George has Rebecca question whether it makes sense, in a century crowded with genocides, that “the Nazis” have become our supreme benchmark of evil.

The play’s two strands concern the troubled relationship between Rebecca and O, and Rebecca’s series of surreal encounters on the el with Nazis — real Nazis, that is, survivors somehow of World War II. Whether these hilarious/horrifying encounters are real, partly real or totally dreamed up in Rebecca’s stressed-out mind is for audiences to decide. It should give us pause, though, that in one them George rather convincingly equates fascists and sports fans.

But if George recoils from easy answers, neither does her intelligence ever feel like knee-jerk provocation: When she rhymes fearful, closeted modern queers with persecuted minorities of the past, it’s not just with Jews in hiding in Hitler’s Germany, but also with post-war Nazis forced to create fresh, false personas for themselves as well.

Not incidentally, and rare among contemporary playwrights, George supplies great roles for women and lots of opportunity for theatricality. At Off the Wall, director Robyne Parrish takes full advantage of the talents of Erika Cuenca (as Rebecca) and Daina Michelle Griffth (O), each of whom plays multiple roles.

Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review for CP.

Zero Hour has two more shows, tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5-35 and are available here.

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