A Killing Game, devised by the ensemble-based theatre company dog & pony dc, in no way constitutes a typical night at the theater. The ninety-minute extravaganza celebrates and explores what the company calls “Audience Integration.”
The ensemble intentionally subverts the traditional actor/audience relationship by letting their audience – called contestants – more or less run riot within a structure devised by the group and inspired by Eugene Ionesco’s Jeu de Massacre (Killing Game). It’s a lot of responsibility to put on unsuspecting strangers, and with an unresponsive house, the show could easily go horribly wrong. If, however, the audience gets into the spirit of Audience Integration, the evening is sure to be wildly successful.
A Killing Game gives the actors a chance to flex their incredible improvisation muscles, turning the audience’s suggestions, tweets, and spontaneous actions into clever jokes, cutting observations, and the occasional shameless pun. The ensemble responds smoothly and with admirable wit, even when rogue audience members threaten to derail the proceedings.
The experience – falling somewhere between the Theatre of the Absurd and a massive, high stakes game of clue – operates on two levels. There is, in the first place, a world with a clear narrative following the course of a mystery plague, adapted from the Ionesco with inspired touches of a Twitter-happy Orson Welles.
The innovation in A Killing Game, however, lies in the second, highly self-aware level, in which the actors (color-coded for audience convenience) engage contestants in a series of games. It’s a joyful demystification of the innermost workings of the supposedly mysterious and sacred world of theatre-making.
With all the moving around and dying and competing, there is the risk that the contestants may not have time to notice what exactly the game has uncovered. By giving the contestants so much responsibility, A Killing Game ironically denies its audience the ability to process what they’ve just been given, resulting in a thousand tiny epiphanies on the way home from the theater, but few in the moment.
The emphasis on action and audience participation also delays the work’s message – embrace life in the face of the inevitability of death – until a brief denouement, a bonus round of meaning which almost feels tacked on after everyone dies for the last time.
A Killing Game
by dog & pony dc
at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company – Melton Rehearsal Hall
641 D Street NW
Washington, DC, 20004
Details and tickets
And Ionesco himself would surely appreciate the light the ensemble sheds on sensationalized “breaking news” coverage: Delightful, improvised wisecracks from Misters Orange and Blue (Sean Paul Ellis and Jon Reynolds, respectively) and Misses Purple and Pink (Jessica Lefkow and Yasmin Tuazon) reveal how absurd the characters – and the ostensibly normal audience members – really are.
Overall, A Killing Game’s innovative format and anarchic wit are sure to engage and entertain. If future audiences can catch their breath, they’ll also be treated to some spot-on absurdist philosophy married seamlessly to modern theatrical form.
Note: when you go, you may want to wear clothing you can move (and die) in comfortably.