'Dead End Kids': Signaling Through the Flames

Mabou Mines Plays Out Nuclear War

The play is funnier as it goes along, when old magic and early science turn into modern terror, lyricism becomes the panicked laughter of denial. The lecturer and his students are funny. So are two generals who piously describe their leaps of faith during the first successful explosion at Los Alamos; meanwhile the multiple Mephistopheles, now a group of psycho-adolescent braintrusters around a tilted table, turn the generals' platitudes into dirty jokes. A hysterically giggly sex-pot technician doing a demo of her home model red-white-and-blue H-bomb reminds us how far we've gone from Curie. We laugh with the people on stage, but we recognize the blackness of their laughter and our own.

Though the play gets harsher, it avoids cruelty to the audience. We are not immersed in easy documentary horrors; almost every event is refracted, parodied, stylized, made emblematic. Our minds working, our senses pleased, we can consider the subject without falling apart. I was shaky towards the end, and sad, but I wanted to say, "What an optimistic event!" When I did it precipitated a rather fierce discussion—some of the company wanted the piece to be more accessible, others wanted solutions and affirmation. Some thought it was up to the audience to take its despair, anger, and knowledge and do something, others thought they were all crazy and that the play, far from being a bummer or even negative, was completely open to the spectator as entertainment, information, humor, beauty, theatricality.

But all I meant was that this first attempt in many years to take the most imaginative form conceivable and push it to its limits, to trust the audience to move beyond its artful surface and carry away its hardest meaning, was a leap of hope for theatre.

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