In order to watch Matthew Freeman’s new play The Listeners, you must lean forward, mush your face into a plywood wall, and squint through a narrow slit. You’re peeking into a room: patterned wallpaper, odd paintings, thrift-shop furniture. (The thinking-inside-the-box directing is by Michael Gardner, for the Brick.) But it’s a narrow aperture, and to maintain visibility, you have to hold your head just so. This is an uncomfortable way to spend 80 minutes (not to mention the risk of splinters). I wish I could say the enforced voyeurism enhances the play’s meaning.
The Listeners‘ premise is like No Exit crossed with Clue — and you might wish for a murder to liven things up. Several oddball characters have taken refuge from a dystopian future in a sort of purgatorial bed-and-breakfast, beguiling the time with cryptic nattering. We hear warnings about wild dogs and allusions to a better era “before.” The guests are keen to establish the marital status of their fellow sojourners, for reasons that never become clear or interesting. Complaining of strange noises, the household hints that an unseen,
malevolent presence — we plywood nosers, perhaps? — hovers outside.
Frequently characters suddenly
begin speaking all the parts, as if the play is happening inside their heads and they’re just talking to themselves. They are. But we knew that already.