Coming face to face with a pair of absurdist short plays certainly made for an unusual Sunday evening -- no catching up on Downton Abbey or watching a Latino-themed NBA double header for me -- but it was an evening well spent. Theatre Novi Most merged two distinct works, Fernando Arrabal's Picnic on the Battlefield and Slawomir Mrozek's Enchanted Night, into an oddly effective whole. Vladimir Rovinksy (also one of the show's directors) adapted the two pieces, and draws connections that aren't apparent on the surface between a pleasant day in the war and the dreams and nightmares of a pair of traveling businessmen.
Picnic on the Battlefield is just that. The parents of a young soldier pay him a visit, and bring a bit of civilization to the war. They pack a nice lunch, lug along a gramophone for some dancing, and generally wreak havoc on their son's usual routine of general boredom and loneliness mixed with moments of abject terror once the bombs begin to drop. An enemy soldier adds to the fun, as the two combatants find out they aren't all that different from each other.
In Enchanted Night, a pair of travelers -- referred to Old Man and Old Boy -- settle in for the night in a seedy-looking hotel while on a long business trip. Things take a turn for the odd when they finally fall asleep and are visited in their room by a woman. Is she a ghost? A figment of their imagination? Or, as they start to worry, are they all figments of someone's imagination? Think of Inception, and you are not far off the mark (well, without all the explosions).
Not only are the dreams bleeding into each other, but each of the stories find space in the other. Old Man and Old Boy show up as stretcher bearers in the first play, disappointed that there are no bodies to cart away; while the entire cast of Picnic makes an appearance late in the second play, making for a few nightmarish minutes.
I'm not sure how well the two pieces co-exist in each others' space, but the discreet moments are certainly well executed. Rovinsky and co-director Lisa Channer continually push the action to stranger territory and the seven members of the company are certainly game for whatever is thrown their way, such as Diogo Lopes's father, who finds sexual pleasure all around him, from the memories of the horses he rode when he was in the war to a "bad touch" affection for his own son.
The stars are Christopher Kehoe as Old Man and Jason Ballweber as Old Boy. Both actors showcase the comic underpinnings of these pieces (absurdist plays often come off as extended Monty Python sketches), such as when Kehoe stretches himself between the two beds in the hotel room to encourage his partner to turn off the light.
Confounding? Well, yes, but I wasn't expecting Mousetrap here, with everything explained away by a nice policeman. Entertaining? For the most part, though each of the plays do sag a bit, as they take their time to get to each brutal conclusion. Worth it? Definitely, especially if you want something outside of the typical theatrical comfort zone.
IF YOU GO:
Picnic on the Battlefield
Southern Theater 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
Through March 18
For information, call 612.308.1365 or visit online