It’s been said the best way to encounter Death is when it’s swift and painless, and the Trinity College Dramatic Society seemed to have kept that in mind when they chose to stage Woody Allen’s Death: A Comedy in One Act. Not having read the play or seen it performed before, I felt I was at a disadvantage to evaluate it, but the flaws and strengths of the production seemed pretty clear. Overall, the production was entertaining, but also somewhat disappointing, given its source material.
Directed by Alistair Scott, the play moved along at a reasonable pace, never boring or difficult to watch. Woody Allen’s hilarious dialogue was kept intact, fortunately. In the play, Kleinman, a salesman, is woken in the middle of the night by his associates to help them seek out the maniac who has been murdering people in the neighbourhood. Kleinman is bewildered to find the people involved in the search (including a doctor and a prostitute) only know their own roles in the plan, and have no idea what the others are doing, or how it all fits together. Eventually, the group splits in two, and neither has a definite idea how to capture the killer. Kleinman is trapped in the middle of the chaos, and meanwhile, the murderer continues to add more victims to his list.
The premise is ridiculously funny, and is reminiscent of such absurdist plays as Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. But the success of the dialogue and the play itself rests in the hands of the actors, and they didn’t seem to know quite what to make of some of the scenes—as a result, these scenes felt forced and out of place. When a clairvoyant entered spontaneously and declared Kleinman the murderer, for instance, it was more confusing than amusing.
John David Wood as Kleinman did a surprisingly good job—surprisingly, because Allen himself is usually the only one who can pull off his trademark neurotic New Yorker. But Wood was convincing as the helpless Kleinman, and delivered the play’s best lines perfectly. The secondary actors weren’t always as successful, including Jenn Hood as the prostitute, who tried to create a character out of stalking around and pulling up her coat collar. The only supporting player who truly made an impression was Luke Stark as the maniac. In his few minutes on stage, he managed to be chillingly mild-mannered and even suave while conveying his obvious insanity—the perfect antithesis to Wood’s nervous chatter. If the other actors in the play had tackled their roles in the same relaxed manner as Stark and Wood, the production could have been a smoother comic experience.