Review: ‘How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found’

U.K. scribe Fin Kennedy blends heightened reality with elliptical visits through the looking glass in a stacked-deck effort to demonstrate the impossibility of escaping one's self.

The new Theater @ Boston Court attraction literally does tutor protagonist Charlie Hunt (Brad Culver) in “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found.” But U.K. scribe Fin Kennedy has weightier fish’n’chips to fry, blending heightened reality with elliptical visits through the looking glass in a stacked-deck effort to demonstrate the impossibility of escaping one’s self. The results are as superficial and tedious as Nancy Keystone’s production is inventive.

As a candidate for vanishing, you’d be hard pressed to locate a more popular choice than our boy Charlie, a self-absorbed, coke-addicted ad man given to lurching around London with mum’s ashes in tow, bleeding from the nose and pestering strangers with impertinent queries: “D’y ou ever feel like everything’s sort of fake?” “Do you ever feel like what you see is just this thin surface?”

With the logical answers (“No”; “Wot?”; “Buzz off, wanker”) not forthcoming, sleepless Charlie stays on the move, a strange buzzing in his ears and, possibly, in yours. A mysterious pathologist (Carolyn Ratteray) informs him his body was fished out of the Thames last night, while buddy Mike (Time Winters) contrives to transform him into a brand-new you: “You are who you can prove you are. You are what people think. An’ that’s the easiest thing in the world to change.”

Or is it? Or do you care? Whatever key Charlie Kaufman possesses for crafting a compelling existential detective story is absent here. Culver, mainstay of the intriguingly avant garde Poor Dog Group, struggles manfully but in vain to render this jerk appealing or sympathetic.

Keystone directs the versatile ensemble into the sort of artificially clipped, overcrisp Brit caricatures one associates with Monty Python sketches. Valerie Spencer occasionally, and Winters often, manage to endow their condescending roles with simple humanity, while Ratteray and Nick Mills are blandish in support.

There’s nothing blandish about Keystone’s supple set, with its cabinet wall yielding Pee Wee’s Playhouse surprises, while Adam Flemming’s nighmarish video displays flicker under Christopher Kuhl’s Kafkaesque lighting. Yet the stage’s busy fussiness finally accentuates the emptiness of what’s acted on it.

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

The Theater @ Boston Court, Pasadena; 99 seats; $32 top


A Theater @ Boston Court presentation of a play in two acts by Fin Kennedy. Directed by Nancy Keystone.


Sets, Keystone; costumes, Ann Closs-Farley; lighting, Christopher Kuhl; sound and music composition, John Zalewski; video, Adam Flemming; production stage manager, Casey McGann. Opened, reviewed Apr. 30, 2011. Runs through May 29. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.


Charlie/Adam - Brad Culver
Sophie - Carolyn Ratteray
With: Nick Mills, Valerie Spencer, Time Winters.
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