‘Tragedy: a tragedy’ at Red Tape Theatre is an intriguing play about… nothing

Tragedy: a tragedy by Will Eno is a short play with a big message about a whole bunch of nothing.

Three reporters (Steve O’Connell, Mike Tepeli and Paige Sawin) are scattered throughout the localities of a nameless midwestern town. The world has apparently come to an end, because, it seems, nightfall has stayed past its curfew and people are disappearing. The reporters have been tasked with reporting on what they see at their three locations: a man-on-the-street interview, an abandoned house, outside a local government building.

Problem is, there’s not much to report. It’s just darkness. Loneliness. Helplessness.

So, the reporters, on command by Frank the anchorman (a stoic, Walter Cronkite-esque Lawrence Garner), desperately fill their isolated voids with editorialized non-events. This local witness may have seen something — wait, maybe he didn’t. A horse just walked by. Nope, no word from the mayor yet.

“Back to you, Frank.”

Soon, compelled by a desperate need to fill the dead space, the reporters let down their slick, professional facades and begin revealing their biggest insecurities, fears and dreams. One reporter takes off her shoes and squats on the ground. Another has an on-air panic attack. At one point, everyone just stands and says nothing for maybe an entire minute. The newscast transforms into rambling and vaguely poetic monologues. At times, Eno’s writing has flashes of wicked humor.

We’re all familiar with the 24-hour news channels — how one comment or happening is dissected to infinity by panels of “experts” for hours on end. Sensationalized comments angrily blurted by these “experts” become news events unto themselves. Fluff is blown up into smoke. Competing stations fight for audience share. Journalistic integrity goes down the drain.

Clearly Eno is not a fan.

The problem with this play is simple: nothing really happens. I mean, I guess that’s the point. However, while a trio of newscasters at sea (with a forlorn captain behind a newsdesk) makes for an intriguing idea, as a full, 75-minute play, it gets frustrating rather quickly. While Red Tape’s production is well acted, there’s no urgency — just desperation and failure. It’s a tragedy, sure, but something has to keep us compelled.

Emily Guthrie’s clever set design uses Red Tape’s gymnasium space quite well. Much like Red Tape’s production of Obscura: a voyeuristic love story, the audience is perched up and away from the action. Guthrie has created a series of stacked spaces — living rooms with easy chairs, seats around a kitchen table, cozy nooks with table lamps — that one can nest in to observe this doomed newscast. My particular seat was in a corner behind a high-top table — 20 feet in the air.

Much like the lost reporters, I was isolated, yet unwillingly exposed.

“Tragedy: a tragedy” plays through June 4 at Red Tape Theatre, 621 W Belmont Ave. More info here >

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