Linda Reiter and H.B. Ward portray a husband and wife caught up in Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s absurdist “Flood” at Shattered Globe Theatre.
At first glance, the world of playwright Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s “Flood” looks normal unto banality. A gray-haired man sits at a worktable in a tidy apartment. He’s intently crafting a sculpture of some sort, ritualistically examining bits of wood before meticulously applying glue and pressure, his focus all but surgical.
But as Shattered Globe’s 90-minute production flows onward, matters become curiouser and curiouser. A flesh-colored mask obscures half the sculptor’s face, while a small group of them — mouths gaping, eyes vacant — hang from the wall. His silent wife, her smile as immobile as a pageant queen’s, appears with a tea tray, standing — and grinning — for several long moments, only to leave after being ignored.
When: Through March 9
Where: Shattered Globe Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Tickets: $15 -$52
Run time: 90 minutes, with no intermission
When she returns, still hopefully bearing the tea service, she remarks repeatedly on the ocean view from their 19th-floor home. The ocean looks like it’s growing.
The remark is whimsical and absurd, but in director Kenneth Prestininzi’s canny production, it’s also tinged with a sliver of ominousness. So it goes in Deen’s minimalist dialogue: The words are an unnerving merger of absurdity with fatalism.
The world of Darren (H.B. Ward) and Edith (Linda Reiter) is as tidy and normal as Edith’s well-kept tea service — except for the fact that their high-rise home is giving them a prime view of the final hours of planet earth. But Darren and Edith can’t fathom what they see, even as Edith puzzles that the buildings are vanishing beneath the waves. They simply cannot conceive of a world where something so awful could happen.
Carl Collins (left) plays Darren Junior, Sarah Patin is Edith Junior and Linda Reiter plays their mother, Edith, in “Flood” at Shattered Globe Theatre.
When their children Darren Junior (Carl Collins) and Edith Junior (Sarah Patin) call from a lower floor with reports of waters thigh-deep and rising, it sets up an existential clash. In Edith and Darren’s world, everything will always be fine. Their children’s narrative? Everybody’s gonna die, and soon.
“Flood” never leaves the building where Edith, Darren and their children live. Both set designer Lauren Nichols’ sleek, mid-century modern decor and the intermittent musical flourishes from Danny Rocket’s jarring, upbeat sound design heighten the 19th floor’s 1950s vibe. The music is instilled with the kind of emphatic, jingle-y pizzazz that wouldn’t be out of place punctuating scenes from vintage domestic comedies such as “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”
Anchored by Reiter and Ward, Prestininzi’s four-person cast is in top form. Reiter gives Edith a perplexed wonder that makes Edith’s inability to process obviously rising flood waters childlike and almost innocent. Instead, she’s preoccupied with a “future,” where she and Darren will have tea, take in their 19th-floor view, and maybe hold hands.
There are shades of “Waiting for Godot” in her optimism. If they can just wait long enough, the future — a place of simple pleasures and general goodness — will surely arrive. Maybe by the time Darren finishes his toothpick sculpture. But by the time Darren finally reveals his beautiful, useless masterpiece, it falls to Edith to gently prepare him for what’s to come and opens the door to a scene when Ward ultimately displays almost shocking vulnerability and trust.
From their rapidly filling lower apartment, Collins’ Darren Jr. and Patin’s Edith Junior speak to their parents with equal parts frustration and doom, unable to make themselves understood.The surreal absurdity defining Deen’s tragi-comic family drama is heightened by the means of communication between Edith, Darren and their children. Instead of a period-perfect rotary dial phone, they use empty metal cans connected by strings — the sort of primitive “telephones” many Boomers played with as kids.
And when projection designer Smooch Medina fills the upstage area with a wall of undulating swells and sends “water” like black mold slithering through the cracks in the 19th-floor apartment, the visual is like the play itself: Weird enough to be comic, but with the implied devastation of a global tsunami.