‘Really.’ Really? (Theatre Exile)

In Theatre Exile's production of

In Theatre Exile's production of "Really," from left: Matteo Scammell, Nancy Boykin and Jessica Johnson. (Photo courtesy of Paola Nogueras)

Silly me, I thought I was going to the theater to see a play. I did go to the theater — Theatre Exile. But there was no play. There was, in its place, something called “Really.”

I would call this 70-minute demonstration of situations without context, emotions without explanation, soulless character-building, and banal dialogue one of the worst plays I’ve seen. But then I’d be calling it a play, which is unfair to plays everywhere.

Just what makes “Really” attractive to Theatre Exile, I can’t say. But Exile, a company that thrives so well on the cutting edge, is left standing here this time without its scissors — and scissors figure in the dialogue of “Really,” as a mother recalls the time a few decades back when her pre-school son ran around the house with scissors and stabbed her in the thigh. She invests the story with great meaning. She does not hint why.

The mother has come to the apartment of her son — he has recently died — in order to sit for pictures taken by his girlfriend, who still lives there. Why the pictures? Because the girlfriend is a photographer and by taking the pictures, she’s apparently creating art — which is what her boyfriend did with his camera when he was alive. Mom (Nancy Boykin) awkwardly makes conversation. The girlfriend (Jessica Johnson) responds to very little of it. The dead son (Matteo Scammell) appears. He’s smug, dreary. Who knows why? Maybe Brenna Geffers does. She directs it.

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And so goes “Really,” by Brooklyn-based Jackie Sibblies Drury. It’s packed with a double whammy: not just nonsense, but sleepy nonsense. Its cast and creative team include first-rate theater artists who would save this production if they could get past the dull hokum. They can’t. Sometimes the designers try to make it bearable (Thom Weaver’s crisp white scenic design and Amanda Jensen’s lighting) and sometimes they make it less so (Chris Sannino’s befuddling, annoying sounds).

I can only guess that the cast had to invent back-stories for their characters in an attempt to try to understand them, but the text of “Really” gives us very little to go on.  One thing I’m pretty sure of: Many references are made, obliquely and not, to the young man’s death, but no one says clearly what caused it. I’m betting on boredom.

“Really,” produced by Theatre Exile, runs through Feb. 18 at the theater inside the Latvian Society, 7th and Spring Garden streets. 215-218-4022 or theatreexile.org.

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