The Droll (Or, a Stage Play About the END of Theatre), a new play by Meg Miroshnik and directed by Blake Hackler, drops audiences into a dystopian future where life is terrible (and inexplicably Shakespearean) and theater has been outlawed. Actors are on the run from “roundheads,” complete with Cobra Commander-style blank metal masks, who want to stamp out all traces of it from society.
“Stage plays in full” are a thing of the past, with theaters everywhere all but destroyed, and in their place previously storied performers play at farcical comedies—the droll, a throwback to entertainment in Puritan England—instead. Think less Hamlet, and more fart jokes.
Miroshnik’s concept is not uninteresting, but in practice it’s twee and overly contrived. The “language” used throughout the show, a mashup of florid Victorian speech patterns and imaginary words, makes characters sound like they’re Gollum chasing after the One Ring. Add in some mushy English accents, and lines are at times confusing or difficult to hear.
Wink-wink references to “the social net” and “figures of action” are precious enough to warrant an eye roll, and obvious enough that they don’t require the emphasis put into the script to make sure the audience is paying attention.
It’s a shame that the vehicle isn’t stronger, because the collective of actors on the stage are a mostly fine bunch. Jack Greenman, as primary actor William Killingworth, has a velvety deep voice that is easy to imagine caressing the lines from any one of old Bill’s soliloquies.
Anthony L. Ramirez’s grinning, maniacal Roundhead menaces his way through the opening, and the only time the show truly approaches creepy is when he is lurking around the edges of the space.
Justin Locklear gives a layered performance as Rosey, the gender-fluid “player of women’s parts” who seems as interested in Alex Organ’s eager-to-please William Rifel as he is in the always-entertaining Jenny Ledel’s prostitute, Doll.
Rhonda Boutté plays Killingworth’s gruff, secretly tender wife, Margaret, the mother hen and iron fist of the company who takes a shine to two-faced urchin Nim Dullyn (Katy Tye). Tye’s Dullyn may be the inspiration for Killingworth to pass on his knowledge, but the big-eyed mascot routine is tiring and irritating. As with most of the players, Dullyn is more caricature than character. Perhaps that is the intention of this twisted historical sendup, but it falls flat in execution.
Unfortunately for Miroshnik, whose last play at the Undermain, The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls, was met with positive press, The Droll is anything but what its name implies. If this is the last dying gasp of theater, someone needs to take it behind the shed and put it out of its misery.