Hunger and Thirst
By Eugene Ionesco. Dir. Michael Shannon. With Lance Stuart Baker, Si Osborne, Douglas Vickers, Molly Reynolds. A Red Orchid Theatre.
Like an endless, lucidly dreamt nightmare, Ionesco’s 1964 fierce and lyrical Hunger and Thirst keeps you feeling like, if you shake yourself hard enough, you might be able to wake yourself out of it. The story of one man’s journey through the thorny terrain of the physiological human experience, Hunger most certainly throws into bold relief the themes Ionesco shared with his contemporary Beckett: the terrors of having a body, the confusion of being blessed with a conscience but not a god, etc. And at three hours and 15 minutes, the play (especially in A Red Orchid’s sweaty, tooth-and-bone staging) aptly demonstrates Ionesco’s notion that mortality is merely an excruciating game of water torture.
While Shannon’s production casts an accurate and eerie fluorescent light on the great absurdist’s work, it also seems like an endurance test of attention span and sympathy. Even though it’s unexpectedly accessible thanks to the invaluable Baker, who plays the bewildered hero with an uncanny familiarity, the three-episode play (which culminates in a seemingly endless morality-play-within-a-play performed for the protagonist by monks) may be deliberately maddening. But in an unappealingly claustrophobic production, that madness comes at the expense of something larger. Shannon the actor is one of the city’s most invaluable natural resources; yet while his direction is as fearless and invested as his performances, Shannon the director has yet to figure out how to dramatize borderline unstageable abstractions of hell on earth.—Christopher Piatt