Wallace Shawn, perhaps most famous for his performances in the Princess Bride and Toy Story, is also an incredibly prolific playwright. For over four decades, Shawn has moved with dexterity between the overtly absurdist to the bitingly political; with his latest offering feeling like a culmination of many of his previous works. We are first introduced to Robert, a television writer and former playwright who sets up the ensuing action: it has been 10 years since his rather unsuccessful New York production of a terribly reviewed new play, and the creative team have decided to reunite in their old regular haunt – the decrepit, eponymous ‘Talk House’. We then spend the remainder of the 140 minute running time watching the relationships untangle and old chemistries reigniting.
Evening At The Talk House is an ambitious piece of work. From the outset the majority of the dialogue is heavily peppered with frequent pop culture references to completely fictitious people and shows. This Brechtian inspired alienation device works very well; rather than making you irritated at feeling out of the loop, it instantly transports you to an imagined alternate reality, and forces you to sit forward and really listen. What starts out as a witty look at typical theatreland interactions takes a rather unexpected turn about a third of the way in, when you suddenly realise you are much further away from our reality than you initially thought. The shocking revelations lead to the characters unearthing more and more truths about each other, painting a pretty horrific picture of what this particular world has come to.
The play ends abruptly at a certain point in the story, leaving you as an audience member to draw your own conclusions. It will no doubt be a divisive piece of work, but I thought it was a highly intelligent exploration of one’s complicity in some of the more murky actions of our society. It is clear beyond all else that this is a play that not only showcases the writer’s trademark wit and talent for crafting a biting and satirical dialogue, but also a voice clearly and quite rightly angered by the current state of the world.
by David Whitaker