`THANATOS' IS SKILLFUL ON ALL COUNTS KC WRITER'S PLAY EXPLORES OUR CULTURE'S ATTITUDES ABOUT DEATH.
January 31, 1994 By ROBERT TRUSSELL Publication: The Kansas City Star
The play "Thanatos" by Ron Simonian runs through Feb. 6 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3820 Main St. Call 531-7529. Superior performances, perceptive direction and an absorbing script distinguish "Thanatos," a new play by Kansas City writer Ron Simonian receiving its first professional production at the Unicorn Theatre. Simonian's play, a thought-provoking exploration of our cultural attitudes about death, is intelligent, challenging, highly comic, palpably erotic and graphically violent. Director Sidonie Garrett has demonstrated a taste for visceral theater in her previous work and here offers a unique and unsettling viewing experience that exposes us to increasingly bizarre human behavior. As strange as the proceedings may be, however, the actors invest the escalating tension with emotionally honest performances that lend the play disturbing plausibility. The show opens in a generic motel room where Sam and Ted, two Red Cross catastrophe specialists, are winding down after a rough day of photographing carnage at a roof cave-in and counseling grieving relatives of the flattened victims. Ted, played by Bill Harper, has let his job get to him. He spills his guts to Sam as he articulates his obsession with the inevitability of death. The rather nonchalant Sam (Phil Fiorini), on the other hand, argues that death is what gives life meaning and allows us to savor our time on Earth. As if to emphasize the point, Sam goes out for the evening to have a drink with a woman he met at the disaster site, a sort of death groupie. Soon after, Ted's room is invaded by an insect exterminator, a head case named Larry (Dan Barnett), who may or not be the Vietnam vet he claims to be. What begins as an innocuous conversation turns into an ugly confrontation that is broken up by the hotel security guard (Walter Coppage). Later, Ted has another visitor - Mary (Tess Brubeck), a performance artist, sent down the hall by Sam to keep Ted company. It doesn't take long for us to learn that Mary's on a trip that makes Larry look harmless. As the play nears its heated conclusion, Ted eventually achieves a level of self-recognition that frees him from his fear of death - but which leads to a series of sudden killings. This bare outline cannot convey the wit of Simonian's sharp-edged writing, but he ultimately offers a cogent portrait of human beings who, despite their perfunctory trappings of civilization, cannot escape one simple fact - that they are animals driven by instincts they rarely understand. The performances are at once bold, detailed and subtle. There are no weak links. The Kansas City Star Date: January 31, 1994 Page: D2 Copyright 1994, 1996 The Kansas City Star Co.