The characters in Will Eno's Oh, the Humanity and Other Good Intentions are often fractured, broken down by everyday details or just overwhelmed by the situation: confessing their true, mundane likes and dislikes for a dating service at one end, trying to deal with the grieving families of a crashed airline flight on the other.
Eno's writing always needs a deft hand, and the players from the Peanut Butter Factory provide that, not just digging into the brittle darkness of the piece but also recognizing that a lot of humor can be found in these five true slices of life. Director Natalie Novacek and a company of three actors take these Spartan pieces with basic staging and magnify it into something grand.
Eno's elliptical pieces often enter in the middle of the action and leave before the questions raised have been resolved. This isn't frustrating, as long as you stay in the moments with the characters and let these painfully honest snatches of their lives play out.
The evening opens with a coach of an unnamed sport talking about a disastrous season—and some disasters on the home front as well. Matt Sciple plays the coach as all jitters, obviously someone trying desperately to keep it together and falling back to familiar platitudes and coach-speak for support, at least for the length of the press conference, before going home and having a good, long cry.
In contrast, Mo Perry plays an airline spokeswoman who mostly stays calm in the face of an unseen room of victims' families, even though it's clear she's probably ready to go home for a good cry as well.
These cracks not only let Eno deal with hard questions of love, loneliness, and loss, they provide avenues for humor. It may simply be the way Sciple empties all of his pockets—even the spare change—before starting to talk, or Perry's wistful delivery when talking about the in-flight movie.
Even when characters share the stage, they are often alone. One piece has two characters talking about themselves for a dating service, but they never talk directly to each other or give any sign that they may eventually come together. The last act has a couple finding themselves on a stage, as if they have been made real by the actors' imaginations. They can't even agree on what their destination was—Perry's character thinks it's a christening, while Christopher Kehoe's is off to his father's funeral. That disconnect in destinations provides its own fuel, as the characters look back on either side of life.
The other piece, about re-creating a Spanish-American War photograph, travels a different path, as the audience becomes a player in the proceedings (nothing interactive, so you shy Minnesotans need not worry). Even though the tone of the work is different, the central ideas—being lost and often alone—remain.