Mourner” is written bythe wonderfully quirky Wallace Shawn, directed masterfully by André Gregory and designed by
Eugene Lee. All three have worked for years to create this inspired piece of
theater; unique in its form, it is a truly sensual and spiritual experience. It
played originally in the 2000. Here, it is being presented in the tiny 99-seat
Susan Shiva Theatre in and by the Public Theatre and further supported by
Theatre for a New Audience.
This three hour exploration, which is both political and
romantic, asks and tries to answer the questions: What is the self? What kind
of relationships makes us happy or causes us to suffer? How do we relate to people we love? Who is
supposed to love us and what does love mean?
Wally Shawn stars as Jack, the designated mourner dressed in black, who
begins the show by lighting a coil of paper and watching it burn and float into
the air. Jack is the narrator, and Shawn, short and bald, bearing the hint of a
lisp, attacks the role with a directness and adorable humor that is
On a large bed center stage lies Howard, played with obvious
contempt by Larry Pine. In brown
bathrobe and pajamas, he is reading.
Turns out he is a “highbrow” and snob as Jack describes him. Howard
knows everyone and everything and has a group of friends who follow him. He
also has a daughter Judy, the estimable, neurasthenic Deborah Eisenberg, who when she is not acting, wins
awards for her short stories. Jack
describes Judy and Howard's relationship as almost incestuous, something he
cannot abide. It makes no difference to her.
Jack is impressed with Howard, but hates him, his posturing
and his power. He falls in love with Judy; although he cannot say that word,
they marry. Their life together is
always impacted by Howard. Each of the
actors delivers their parts independently, in monologues. There are people who take over their country-
perhaps third world- and cruelly attack Howard, his followers, and finally
Judy. Meanwhile Jack is making an effort
to understand himself and establish his own life in sometimes bizarre
ways. Let us just say John Donne and his
poetry are mistreated, as Jack becomes a lowbrow!!
This is all the tip of the iceberg. Every sentence of this work is interlaced
with philosophy, questioning the meaning of life, of death, of the present, the
past and the future. There are moments of sadness; moments of comedy. At times, we cannot hear the words as we
would have liked. Shawn is the only one who projects clearly with a joyousness
that knows no bounds. “The Designated
Mourner” plays through August 25 at the Shiva Theatre ta the
This fall, Shawn's newest play, “Grasses of a Thousand Colors” will run at the same theater from
October 7 through November 10.