Theater archives

Ritter, Dene, Voss’s Pall in the Family


Everyone knows that if a gun appears early in the first act, a bullet will fire before the final curtain. By similar edict, if a cream puff emerges onstage, its filling will soon smear some actor’s face. Even Thomas Bernhard, the cantankerous Austrian playwright, upholds this law. In Ritter, Dene, Voss at La MaMa, the sweets arrive and a lovely mess ensues. Yet don’t let the pastry fool you: Though labeled a comedy, the play—named for the three actors who first performed it—is comic neither in the Aristotelian sense nor in the merely humorous one, though it may owe something to the Balzac’s astringent “comédie humaine.”

The script concerns two actress sisters whose brother (Jordan Pettle), a philosopher in the mode of Ludwig Wittgenstein, has recently been released from a mental institution. The elder (Maev Beaty) delights in his return; the younger (Shannon Perreault) wishes he had stayed. The play takes place in real-time, in two hours on a single afternoon, though under Adam Seelig’s rather staid direction it feels much longer. Characters talk at rather than to each other, or address their musings directly to the audience: “Family means death” and “I don’t know who suffered more” are some of their cheerier bon mots. Though quite well acted by the members of Canadian company One Little Goat Theatre, amid all that chatter and prattle and desperate unhappiness, you might wish more than one sibling had stifled himself with the sweet course.

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