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Deep Dish Theater is closing its wide-ranging 11th season with the comically dystopian Henceforward…, set in a near future full of danger and marked by the pervasive presence of electronic technologies. Both the vigilante gangs and the technological items that appeared strange and slightly improbable when the play was written in 1987 are today facts of present life, making this future fiction even more frightening. A rather bleak meditation on the eternal triangle of art-making, living-making and love-making, by prolific English playwright Alan Ayckbourn, it is cleverly staged by director Paul Frellick, who takes full advantage of the play's dark humor to make its pathos bearable. Frellick wisely cast Katja Hill in the role of Zoe (and her doppelganger), and her pale beauty, vulnerability and exquisite comic timing throw a luster over the script's shades of black.
Zoe is a struggling young actress, desperately scrounging work, and she's been sent by her agency to the no-go zone apartment-stronghold of Jerome, played by Mark Filiaci. Self-centered, opaque, dour, glum and angry, he's a composer in need of unspecified assistance. As Zoe eventually discovers, Jerome's raw material is sound recorded all the time in every room of his apartment, which he mixes and loops into compositions. (When Ayckbourn wrote this, he worked with one of the few expensive synthesizers capable of the exotic job. Audio has changed not a little in the ensuing quarter-century.) Since his wife left him and took their daughter, Jerome's been unable to compose anything — his only companion is a poorly functioning domestic robot, marvelously played by Leanne Heintz — who also plays the ex-wife. Jerome's looking for a woman to make sounds for him to pirate and sample in hopes of composing a masterpiece on love, but also to clean the place up and stand in as his new girlfriend for an upcoming visit from Mervyn (Jon Karnofsky, very droll), of the Department of Child Well-Being, when he hopes to negotiate visits with is daughter.
Zoe has a hard time getting to Jerome's fortified apartment from her safer home on the other side of a large city, and she leaves numerous messages on Jerome's videophone before she finally makes it through his door after a mauling by the Daughters of Darkness. Hill's work in this early scene is stellar, and much too funny to give away. Filiaci sets it off by his character's obliviousness to her condition — he's thinking only of himself and his scheme. He also ignores frequent desperate video messages from his friend Lupus (Gregor McElvogue; sadly, present only on the screen, not the stage), and Mervyn the social services man, along with the bizarre incursions by the robot, Nan.
Zoe takes a shine to Jerome, but he alienates her and she leaves, whereupon Jerome becomes even more devious in his plot to trick his wife and win back his daughter. The second act is all about their visit, and in it the questions about love and creativity that have been sketched earlier are fully and painfully delineated. Leanne Heintz gives a wonderfully controlled performance as the wife Corinna, and director Frellick has kept the pace deliberately slow, so that one is just about to jump out of one's skin by the time poor Corinna finishes dismantling all her defenses and stripping herself to the heart as she begs for love.
The final scene as played is a bit too ambiguous. You can't tell for sure what Jerome is up to, but you can tell that this is not a happy ending for all. Henceforward… is full of ironies, and supplies another: Nothing good comes to these characters, but the play brings the Deep Dish season to a very good conclusion.
The run continues through May 19. See our sidebar for details.