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Welcome to the Jugular

Beware of couples who ask you 
and your spouse over for dinner — especially if you suspect you may turn out to be the main course. Amer­icans have never been able to respond to social invitations from work colleagues with quite the same innocence they displayed before Edward Albee’s George and Martha hosted an evening whose pastimes included Get the Guests and Hump the Hostess. The British have only kept the party threat advisory at orange with Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and Alan Ayckbourne’s Absurd Person Singular — comic nightmares about what happens when people with few ambitions have too many drinks.

Playwright David Gieselmann is German but feels no need to bring order to the fondue table. His 70-minute play, Mr. Kolpert , running at the Odyssey Theater, is an expressionist meltdown that begins with civilized banter and ends with mute, primal apocalypse. Ralf and Sarah (Kenneth Alan Williams and Amy Farrington) are an unmarried couple living together; bored by life, they’ve embarked on a search for catharsis to jump-start their emotions. Taking a cue from the Leopold and Loeb–like characters of Patrick Hamilton’s Rope, they murder an office colleague of Sarah’s and hide him in a steamer trunk. But perhaps they haven’t. We aren’t really certain — not even guests Edith and Bastian (Jen Dede and Thomas Vincent Kelly), who arrive for drinks and abuse, know for sure, although their hosts continually taunt them with the murder claim — and the trunk that ostentatiously sits in the middle of their apartment.

For a while it doesn’t seem to matter, since Edith and Bastian have their own problems. He’s a teetotaling architect so prickly that he almost beats up Ralf when the host offers him liquor. Nor is Bastian much impressed with Ralf’s erudite chatter about chaos theory or with Sarah’s claim that mousy Edith had an affair with Mr. Kolpert — the man supposedly in the trunk. Adding insulin to injury, the diabetic Bastian must inject himself in front of everyone.Mr. Kolpert is familiar stuff to students of black comedy, and to Joe Orton admirers in particular. Language doesn’t merely fail, it plays tricks on its speakers; an unhelpful outsider appears in the figure of a hapless pizza deliveryman (Brad C. Light) and characters lose control of the situation when confronted with death — not as the ruffian on the stairs, but as a heavy, bloody corpse.

“All research is research into order,” Ralf explains to the frowning Bastian. “Chaos researchers ask, ‘What if there is no order?’ ”

The cardinal sin, in other words, is not murder but the hubris of trying to make order out of chaos — or is it trying to create chaos where order exists? Director Scott Cummins has fun with David Tushingham’s translation, but knows when to pull back and allow the evening’s final, bloody tableau to speak for itself. The cast goes all out (including several members who will appear fully nude); Farrington in particular excels at the physical comedy, although I don’t know why Williams speaks with a British accent.

If there’s a problem, as far as Gieselmann is concerned, it’s that he’s a formalist playwright attempting to apply an intellectual veneer over what is essentially a food fight. Still, he never pushes the theory too hard, and so we should shun that favorite theater-party game, Punch the Playwright.

 

MR. KOLPERT | By DAVID GIESELMANN | At Odyssey Theater Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A. | Thru March 19 | (310) 477-2055