Evening at the Talk House: A Dystopian World Where Theater is Not Valued

A ten-year-reunion that manages to go a bit off the rails.

A ten-year-reunion that manages to go a bit off the rails.                                       Photo by Full Metal Jacket

In Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House, audiences are presented with characters gathered for a reunion in some unspecified country at some unspecified time in the future.

All were involved with a certain unsuccessful play ten years before. They are there to catch up, see what each other has accomplished in the intervening years; the usual stuff of countless high-school and college reunions.

But in what co-director Kyle Sturdivant (Best Actor, 2017 Houston Theater Awards) calls one of Shawn’s “more accessible” plays, what soon develops in this one-act is a far darker – while still comedic – story line of how politics, survival instincts and compromise can take over the lives of even the most idealistic members of the citizenry. Rob Shimko, director of the University of Houston School of Theatre & Dance and executive director of the Houston Shakespeare Festival, is also sharing co-directing duties.

“The important thing for this play, I think, is that ten years ago, when they all did theater, they really did love each other very much and they had a wonderful time doing this play,” Sturdivant says. “And so I think everybody wants to be there to see each other but the circumstances of the past ten years have changed so much that it almost makes it impossible even for certain characters even to be in the same room with each other. And to the point that somebody’s life might be in danger to that end.”

He says when he first read the play he says he was reminded of some of the Alley Theatre’s Summer Chills with Agatha Christie plays. “What’s so smart about the play is it kind of looks like that if you’e not paying too much attention,'” he says. But when you start asking questions the answers take you into the realm of politics and social class in this future dystopian society, he says.

The play opens with the character Robert (actor Sean Patrick Judge) — the person who wrote the play within the play — doing one of Shawn’s patented opening monologues. “So we kind of enter the world through him. But also Wallace Shawn uses this term called ‘the unreliable narrator’ where you don’t know if you can really trust everything Robert has told you about the world.”

“The world of theater has just about died in the world of this play. It’s not really looked upon romantically anymore,” Sturdivant says. “Everybody involved in the show had to go on to other careers. And some people in the cast went on and made a lot more money doing television and stuff like that while other people in the cast have been kind of lost.”

In like manner, the place they are meeting at has fallen into decline as well. As usual, Shawn’s characters aren’t always completely likable, Sturdivant says, but they are thought-provoking.

Performances are scheduled from October 5 through October 20 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays with special 7:30 performance on Monday October 16 at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For information, call 713-521-4533 or visit catastrophictheatre.com. $35 suggested ticket price.