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Review: PushPush Theatre lives up to its name with daring, richly strange “The Black Glass”

Shelby Hofer in the daring and provocative "The Black Glass."
Shelby Hofer in the daring and provocative "The Black Glass."

A character steps forward and speaks directly to the audience, saying, “A year has passed.” It’s possible that a year has just passed. Or it’s possible that the character is just saying, “A year has passed.” Maybe that’s just the kind of thing he does. Or maybe he’s not even there at all. Maybe he’s just a figment of another character’s imagination. Or maybe all the other characters are figments of his. You get the idea (or you don’t).

What you make of the new play “The Black Glass,” being staged by PushPush Theater at the Goat Farm Arts Center through December 22, will depend largely on what you make of such abstract theatrical head games. Audience members with a low tolerance for them will find their patience tried by the ambiguity and seeming impossibility of the storyline, if not the seeming impossibility of discerning the storyline. But in PushPush’s daringly experimental new show, those willing to go along for the ride will find a darkly compelling meditation on the human cost of corporate greed.

“Black Glass” was developed by playwright Guy Zimmerman in conjunction with Padua Playwrights Theater in Los Angeles. It centers on Donny (Tim Haberger), the powerful chief executive of a hugely profitable but psychopathically soulless corporation. As the play opens, he’s celebrating a recent successful corporate takeover with his old friend and (possibly) half-brother, Tommy (Brad Culver), at the top of his sleek black-glass office tower in downtown Los Angeles, a pinnacle of power.

Tommy has unexpectedly invited two young women, Dawn and Adana (Corryn Cummins and Shelby Hofer). At first they seem to be prostitutes brought along to be part of the celebration, but later it seems more likely that they’re anti-capitalist rebels who’ve managed to crash the party using that ruse. They begin to taunt Tommy with the idea that the beloved teenage daughter he keeps sequestered in a convent school in Spain has become (or will become) a porn star and that they’re part of an elaborate blackmail scheme. Tommy becomes convinced — or is trying to convince himself — that the women are figments of his troubled imagination, and perhaps they are.

Although it’s often hard to find your balance, “The Black Glass” develops a surprisingly powerful poetry of tangled expectations. Its strangeness and mystery reflect the high ambitions of the artists involved. It isn’t so much a play as an abstract painting that uses theatrical action instead of brushstrokes: it invites that sort of contemplation and meditation.

Being on such unfamiliar shaky ground can be frustrating, but it can be exciting too. It’s an ominous, uneasy world we’re in, one where morality and identity, even time and sense themselves, are subject to a sort of radioactive uncertainty. It’s all tied together and given ominous overtones in John Zalewski’s dark background score.

Moving audience members around in the middle of the play doesn’t advance anything but only addles entry into an already challenging work. But PushPush otherwise approaches this richly strange play with a lot of daring, smarts and energy, making for an intriguing head-first dive into the unknown.

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