Under better circumstances, it is possible that "Skyfall," a contemporary Hungarian play by Miklos Vamos, might have something interesting to say.
As produced by the Source Theatre, which is giving the work its American premiere, it appears to be babbling.
A comic look at the alienated inhabitants of a state-run apartment building, "Skyfall" is reminiscent of much of the absurdist play writing that flowered in France in the 1960s. Behind the slapstick antics of urban dwellers trying to get to sleep one cosmically noisy night lurks a large theme: the ultimate solitude of an overpopulated society in which people and police may live on top of another but connect only in frustration and anger. However, the overwrought, not to say messy, staging of Bart Whiteman and the generally inadequate acting by a large cast make it all but impossible to discern the outlines of Vamos' work.
A successful novelist and playwright in his homeland, Vamos is now looking to establish a beachhead in America. Finding a good translator would seem to be a top priority. I can't speak for the original, but the broadness of the dialogue at the Source certainly belies the author's admission that he likes to "focus on the possibilities of language, how language can be played with."
"Skyfall" starts out on the eighth floor of the building, where a newly married couple rails against the noise (a dance class? elephants? World War III?) emanating from the apartment above. Although the family members on the ninth floor tend to engage in nonstop squabbling, they're equally upset by the cacophony above them. The 10th floor, it turns out, is occupied by an old woman who's dozed off before her blaring TV set. Her husband left her long ago and her two uncaring children are often absent. Despite the din, she is succumbing to the awful emptiness of life.
Presiding over the play, commenting on it and actually intervening in some instances, are six members of the Dream Police. They may be symbols of an invasive bureaucracy or agents of mind control. For what it's worth, one of them advises the lonely old lady, "You could be complacent like us." Occasionally a stagehand, claiming to be the concierge, walks across the stage with cue cards that serve as footnotes. "In Hungary," one of them informs us, "it takes 5-10 years to get a telephone after it's been ordered."
All of this tends to sprawl incoherently on the stage of Source's Warehouse Rep, where the production runs through July 12. Compounding the chaos, a technician holding a video camera and trailing a long cable wanders smack into the middle of scenes to poke his lens in the actors' faces. The results of his labors are relayed to us over four TV sets to no apparent effect.
The cast members bellow and stumble, pound on the ceiling and roll in the sheets with a minimum of control and less comic technique. Even such generally reliable performers as Brian Hemmingsen (playing a drunk) and Barbara Rappaport (the old lady) look vaguely helpless, as if trapped in a colossal traffic jam with no letup in sight. I appreciated their plight.
Whatever it is in Hungarian, "Skyfall" in English is a botch. Skyfall, by Miklos Vamos, adapted from a translation by Viktor Polgar. Directed by Bart Whiteman; set, David McCandlish; lighting, Dennis Jelalian; costumes, Marsha Le Boeuf; sound, Craig Bradshaw. With Nick Smyth, Alicia Wollerton, Brian Hemmingsen, Steve Grad, Lisa Sherman, Albert St. Denis, Barbara Rappaport, Peter Cook. At Source Theatre's Warehouse Rep through July 12.