Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom,” which is receiving its California premiere at the Odyssey Theatre, is a cross between Eugene Ionesco and Lorraine Hansberry.
Suzan-Lori Parks won an Obie Award for this attempt to describe the experience of black Americans through the language of the theater of the absurd.
In spite of its often clever writing, Parks’ play isn’t particularly startling or refreshing. And in this production at least, it is seldom amusing or emotionally involving.
The play consists of four scenes, all of which deal with themes of helplessness and frustration, and one of which is repeated. Entitled “Third Kingdom,” this is the work’s most successful marriage of form and content.
In it, the audience experiences the feelings of confusion and dislocation felt by the characters — newly captured African slaves who are being shipped off to America.
The manic but unfunny first scene concerns a black family’s battle with a giant cockroach. The often-baffling middle scene features a sadistic dentist pulling a terrified old woman’s teeth and the final, most straightforward, scene is about a soldier based overseas and the frustrated family he left at home.
Cast does superb work. Fay Hauser gives a virtuoso performance in the third scene, convincingly conveying emotions ranging from terror to triumph.
Neil Patel’s striking set is dominated by an inch-deep pool of water, in which the actors splash around a good deal of the time.
This is effective in the slave-ship scene, but otherwise seems superfluous. Doc Ballard’s lighting and Karl Lundeberg’s sound design are first-rate.