Editors' pick

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

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Editorial Review

At Theater Alliance, a real nowhere man's story
By Nelson Pressley
Thursday, Mar. 15, 2012

Start with a dead guy, or maybe not -- maybe he's in purgatory, or the subway. Wait -- he's alive, but he's a grieving liar-thief-coke fiend who needs to erase his identity and start fresh. Pseudo-cide.

That last term comes from a real how-to book titled "How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found," which partly inspired the shaggy play of the same title at Theater Alliance. Fin Kennedy's often angry British drama works hard to maintain an aura of existential uncertainty, and director Colin Hovde, with ample atmospheric help from John D. Alexander's dim lights and Elisheba Ittoop's subtle soundscape, turns the intimate H Street Playhouse into a limbo land of shadows and fog.

The concept has a touch of Charlie Kaufman-style mind-bending, with Charles - our furious young hero, a London ad man - clutching his late mother's ashes and drifting through the city in a sleepless stupor. Kennedy gives us reason to believe that Charles is dead but also provides evidence that he's alive, and this elaborate stab at an uncertain netherworld is somewhat successful.

The muddle comes with the story, a two-parter that flirts with the alive-or-dead business in Act 1 but shifts to the nitty gritty of government-issue identity in Act 2. Charles's sleepless misadventures lead him to an old buddy who forges IDs and helps people vanish from the usual bureaucratic tracing mechanisms. (Thus the all-purpose set by Brooke A. Robbins, a bland wall of utility shelves stacked with boxes of files.) Is this what Charlie wants?

If you're thinking of scratching it all and starting again, pay attention to that second act: The tips about erasing one's public self seem pretty well researched. But in both parts, Kennedy's plotting needs tightening; Charles's wandering encounters with quirky strangers and maddening colleagues are sluggish and overpadded.

What works are the terse black comedy bits, the sardonic quick hits with the gallery of gray-clad figures (the costumes are by Leon E. Wiebers). A rare monologue with Charles spewing venom at every aspect of his fast-paced modern existence has color and energy that much of the dialogue lacks, and Dylan Morrison Myers delivers it with fire.

Myers is an engaging presence throughout, nicely jittery and haunted, and Stephanie Roswell calmly plays a character who - well, once she shows up, you're pretty sure about where Charles stands, existence-wise. Ian Armstrong, Greg Gallagher and Nadia Mahdi take on the remaining 28 characters, some of which are sharp, but with many quickly fading into the overwritten haze.