Absurdist playwright Eugene Ionescos little-known play seems a logical, and theological, extension of his more famous, politically charged Rhinoceros, about the steady conversion of a rural towns population into pachyderms (stand-ins for the Nazis); here, the setting is an idyllic city, where a seemingly passé gathering of people on a street turns bizarre when, one by one, they all drop dead, including two infants in a stroller. Soon, the citizens are told that a mysterious plague has broken out and that the city is to be quarantined, after which all hell breaks loose. We witness scenes of panic, rabid paranoia, murder by gunshots and lots of dying, as the populace reacts much like a horde of lab rats. The grim mis en scène is not without its funnier side, such as when two convicts attempting an escape from jail are given the keys to their freedom by the jailer, but they refuse to leave; or a gathering of snooty uptowners whose serene sense of propertied safety is shattered when death comes calling. Ultimately, the playwright is not really concerned with death but with what happens when mass fear and irrationality seep in and infect the community. Every actor in director Chris Covics white-clad, nameless ensemble dies at least once, which makes the proceedings, after a time, rather predictable. But the monotony isnt seriously contagious and is offset by many thought-provoking, lighter moments. Unknown Theater, 1110 N. Seward St., Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; through Dec. 21. (323) 466-7781.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 6 p.m. Starts: Nov. 14. Continues through Dec. 20, 2008