In its relatively short existence, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company has made its esthetic predilections abundantly clear. From America's Mark Medoff to Poland's Slavomir Mrozek to France's Boris Vian, it favors writers of a surrealistic bent, attuned to the absurdity and menace in today's world.
Its current bill--"Meyer's Room" and "Love Mouse," two one-acts by Sheldon Rosen, an American living in Canada--is yet another sortie into the territory. Neither play is a masterpiece, or even a minorpiece, although "Meyer's Room" definitely bears watching. In it, three characters--a young stud who answers to the name of Rock Hudson; a man who reasons he must be Meyer, because this is Meyer's room; and a shady thug who says, without batting an eye, that he's Meyer's daughter--try to face up to the nameless terrors just outside the door.
On his occasional outings, Meyer pretends to be a blind man, and that just may be Rosen's point. To survive in society, you have to learn to be blind, think of nothing, and, if possible, sing a lighthearted tune to throw the omnipresent killers off the track. But the characters don't really submit to rational analysis. Certainly not when Rock Hudson expresses his desire to become a butterfly, and, as a first step, accepts a sheet for a cocoon and allows himself to be wrapped in it.
There are shades of Pinter here--three nobodies locked in a room with their fears--but there's also a nuttiness you don't always find in Pinter. The acting at Woolly Mammoth is proficient enough to establish Rosen's moods, and in the case of Howard Shalwitz, it is actually noteworthy. Looking like an extra in a B-grade gangster movie, cigarette dangling from his chops, Shalwitz is perfectly credible and perfectly mystifying as a thug named Madeline.
"Love Mouse" is just as irrational, although more fanciful. To their mounting amazement and helplessness, a bickering husband and wife find a mouse in their kitchen, then a rat, then a howling wolf. Their dining-room floor gives way to an ocean and their kitchen is set adrift on the high seas. In the course of such fantastical happenings, routine is shattered and their sexual relationship rekindled.
To get around the obvious production difficulties, director Roger M. Brady has an actress play, story-theater style, animals and appliances, while a narrator reads the increasingly bizarre stage directions. It's not a satisfactory solution. I'm not sure how you convince an audience that a kitchen is floating away, but I suspect it's a job for imaginative actors and designers. Merely relaying the information via a narrator dampens the fun.
Still, the double bill is quick and quirky, and it is carried off with more abandon than the Woolly Mammoth usually musters. The company does have a personality all its own, strange as it may be. That's more than you can say of some.
LOVE MOUSE and MEYER'S ROOM. By Sheldon Rosen. Directed and designed by Roger M. Brady; lighting, Chas Hausheer. With Ade Spikol, Stephen Wallace Haines, Howard Shalwitz, Carroll Carlson, Vicki Krausz. At the Woolly Mammoth, 1317 G. St. NW, through June 26.