Members of the Zoo District Theater Co. have taken a surrealistic journey through the first 20 lines of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” incorporated the physical comedy of silent-film star Buster Keaton and a potpourri of vaudeville, butoh, Tadashi Sazuki and kabuki-esque shtick to create a nonsensical but highly creative actors’ exercise that doesn’t really amount to much. It is, however, fun to watch.
Making great use of a table, two chairs, two glasses and a Rubik’s Cube, Joe Fria and Ben Simonetti duel mano a mano as two self-involved actors attempting to overpower the other with their own agenda and needs. Shepard’s “True West” dialogue is simply fodder for their one-upmanship, each never allowing the other to become comfortable onstage. Further disrupting their psyches is the late arrival of a hyperactive audience member (Mami Arizono), who eventually involves herself in the action by maniacally attacking an accordion and a slew of percussion instruments.
Fria and Simonetti play off each other very well, creating a kind of anti social pas de deux as they move about the stage always looking to outdo or outposition the other. Unfortunately, their activity becomes redundant very quickly. Despite the shortness in length, the piece outlasts their ideas; Arizono’s quirky presence provides much-needed texture and a welcome diversion but doesn’t offer any illumination or add substance to the effort.
What stands alone as a joyous work of art is their brief but meticulously crafted show-closing re-creation of the classic dinner sequence from Buster Keaton’s 1920 silent “The Scarecrow.” Flawlessly passing the rope- and pulley-suspended utensils and condiments back and forth across the table, Fria and Simonetti achieve a balletlike symmetry that is as much homage to Keaton’s genius as it is to their own dexterity.
Aiding and abetting these onstage shenanigans are the creatively playful lighting of Michael Franco and the mood-enhancing sounds of Eric Snodgrass. The ingeniously wrought Keaton table setting is uncredited.