Who am I? Why am I here? What do I want? Nothing encourages deep, introspective thoughts like putting together a video for a dating service, or a press meeting, or the inquiring eyes of a room full of strangers. Each situation requires a person to look into the distance and tell whoever is out there - camera, press or audience - who they are and what they want. This is the groundwork Will Eno lays for his series of reflective, existential plays, Oh The Humanity and other exclamations, featuring five short stories that examine the human condition through an intensely philosophical but often comic lens. The two actors Marisa Tomei and Brian Hutchinson sometimes address their probing questions to the audience, breaking the fourth wall to ask, “What do you think?” They never wait for an answer. They know they don’t have to. Their questions are presented in such a way that it is hard to resist internalizing them.
Tomei and Hutchinson speak in engaging and conversational tones. They act like real people living in a real world, not abstract symbols representing something greater than themselves. Their topics may weave through a maze of complexity, but the dialogue stays simple, clearly designed to relate to audiences rather than confuse them.
In Tomei and Hutchinson’s first skit together, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rain, Gentleman (Hutchinson) and Lady (Tomei) stand onstage staring into a camera as they record their profiles for a dating service. The Lady is squinty-eyed and uncertain; the Gentleman is nervous and overly-revealing.
They speak fearfully of life’s sudden endings, the kind that happen before you know what hit you. Lady smiles thinking about the little things in life that make her happy, such as people applauding for something they really love. They talk about the naiveté of childhood, the broken relationships of adulthood, the illnesses and quirks that define them and the way they deal with stress. As Lady and Gentleman’s realizations intensify the lights dim until you can see nothing but their illuminated faces surrounded by darkness. And then the lights go out.
Most of the pieces end with a fade to black, with the exception of The Bully Composition, a truly memorable story that literally goes out with a flash. This vignette offers an unsettling examination of the photograph, specifically its purpose to capture a fleeting moment in time. Photographer (Hutchinson) and his Assistant (Tomei) ask: what does a photograph really capture? We do not know what the people are feeling, what they were doing before they posed for the picture or what they did after it was taken. We know their image but not their story.
Photographer then turns the camera to us, the audience. He wants to take our picture and muses at the many different stories that could come from each of us. He points out that we are all strangers to each other, yet each of us has our own unique history, a set of circumstances that brought us together to this time and place. The Photographer and his Assistant behave as if they can see our personalities surfacing on our faces, implying that if we could see it too we would be amazed to learn how deceiving an image is. Then the piece ends with an exploding flashbulb, a signal that the moment is gone, leaving us as just another image without a story.
Oh! The Humanity is the kind of play that rattles your world and makes you think. Eno’s writing forces you to contemplate both the intricacies of life and the intricacies in yourself. Fortunately, the process is not all headaches and misery. This is the kind of play that makes you want to run outside, share a story with a friend, get to know a stranger better and announce your presence to the world. After all, no one wants to end up as just another image.