Form is wedded to content in “Incomplete and Random Acts of Kindness,” the David Eldridge play whose title is longer than some of its scenes. A deliberately fractured treatment of a life tilting toward chaos, this latest work from the English-language adapter of “Festen” couldn’t have picked a better day to open than Friday the 13th, since it’s about a character consumed (the presumably ironic title notwithstanding) by random acts of misfortune and bad luck.
The result is a feel-bad drama unfolding across 39 splintered scenes, some no more than a few words. Does the puzzle-play approach reward scrupulous study? That will depend on individual tolerance for such things. Suffice it to say that Sean Holmes’ production is always clear, even when the structure seems as intentionally opaque as the affect is ceaselessly grim.
“It’s not always about you,” says Colin (Keir Charles), chum to the play’s put-upon hero, Joey (Shaun Dingwall), though the fact remains that virtually everything that happens seems to emanate from the experiential shards that might otherwise be called life.
Parental reckonings, sudden bursts of violence, even a personal obsession with Marvin Gaye each play their part in a composite portrait of chaos and disorder. This tellingly begins with an exchange of questions only to end with an answer by way of Beckett: “I’m going now,” says Joey, Godot-like, leaving it open to debate whether he does in fact make a move.
What do we know of Joey? Well, his capacity for appearing cursed (a word he actually uses) might give even Job pause. At odds with a seemingly racist, intemperate father (Tom Georgeson), estranged from his girlfriend (Kellie Bright) and devoted to a student (Heshima Thompson) who himself seems doomed, Joey would seem to defy the smile occasionally glimpsed across thesp Dingwall’s forgivably anxious face. Nor is the visage softened by the grounding of his domestic demons against the merciless backdrop of the Iraq war.
Play marks a further move in a nonlinear direction for its prolific writer, who has shifted in style from such early glories as “Serving It Up” and “Summer Begins” without quite locating the emotional component to the theatrical pinwheels he now serves up. It’s possible, too, that so stylized a source as “Festen” contributed to a freeing up in Eldridge that is more rewarding for him than for an audience that (especially at the Royal Court) has been down this self-consciously obfuscatory route before.
And alert though Dingwall is to Joey’s gift for being jerked around by fate, he and a fine director, Holmes, are at the mercy of a play whose title, perhaps deliberately, says it all: The play in its own way feels incomplete — it’s so many snapshots in search of a dramatic center.