What is David Cale’s , four people try, in vain, to ward off—in no particular order—the end of the world, insanity, grief, the value of work, and nervous breakdowns. Peter (Jeb Kreager) and Basil (Ken Leung) drive a salt truck that handles the worst that Illinois winters can throw onto the streets, Maiworm (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) is the middle-aged assistant director of public works finally receiving public recognition for her job, and her daughter Jane Jr. (Rachel Sachnoff) goes very deep very quickly with whoever she is around.
Jane Jr. also seems lonely, scared, and in need of even more tender loving care than the wonderful Maiworm—now newly excited about a new way to heat pavements, and so do away with expensive salt-spreaders—seems capable of supplying. Fresh from her starring role at the Shed’s Straight Line Crazy, the character of scourge-of-brutalist-urban-planning-icon Jane Jacobs returns—here played by Leung—as an impatient spirit, looking on dimly at events.
Arbery’s play, directed with a playful pop by Danya Taymor, is about personal tragedies, as well as the much bigger one heading for the world thanks to our own neglect. It’s also about death, and people struggling to grieve and move forward. It’s about a secret affair. Characters speak bluntly and plainly to one another. There is a lot of swearing. Big plot developments are hilariously rushed away. There is a lady in a big hat, a kind of in-house specter, who presages yet more strangeness.
There are a few plays right now in which exquisite performances deliver a play fresh to the audience. Here, the quartet of performers burrow deep into the absurdities and intensity of Arbery’s words. The result is a fascinating, surreal, and yet also very real, exploration of fragile lives.