Review: Tracy Letts Brings Out the Long Knives in Short Plays

Wilson does a great job in the 12-minute monologue, making snobbishness and hostility seem human, if not sympathetic (much like he did in “The Office”) In Patrick Zakem’s merciless close-ups, he appears to be actively coagulating. “Night Safari” may have an overly clever concept, but it’s nothing more than a silly diversion. It’s an amusing diversion, perhaps, because of the song’s quick tempo and high pitch.

As witty as ever, “The Old Country,” published just last year, depicts a lunchtime conversation between two elderly men represented by papier mâché puppets. However, as you begin to realise the men are speaking at cross purposes, the scene quickly shifts into another realm.

There are two people in the duo: Ted (voiced by William Petersen) is more talkative and generally in control of his impulses, and he makes sexist remarks about past conquest while also praising the sandwiches at the diner.

It’s as if Landy (the legendary Mike Nussbaum, who’s now 97) has let go of his anchors, drifting aimlessly on a sea of random and often inappropriate thoughts. Landy retorts, “You sawed a lady in half” when Ted says, “We sat in a booth right there.”

There is a growing sense that he isn’t actually replying; he’s just making pronouncements like we all do from our own self-created worlds of thought and experience.

Because the puppets, as performed by Grace Needlman, seem to generalise human experience rather than specify it like live actors do (once again the director is Zakem), that impression is heightened. In just eight minutes, “The Old Country” takes on the weight of universal tragedy thanks to its sad beauty and apt materiality (Ted’s stringy white hair looks like Scotch tape).

A better word would be the humour in everything. All the dramatic work is done by the theatrical format, and only by implication. There is no shrieking or bellowing in these plays The pain lies in the difference between what is said and what is shown.