Life & Culture

The Comeuppance review: Grim repear comes calling at the college reunion


The way we were: Ferdinand Kingsley and Yolanda Kettle Photo: Marc Brenner


Four stars

“I think of humans as products of history,” says playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. The description certainly suits his best known work An Actoroon in which one actor simultaneously plays a 21st century African American New York playwright (like BJJ) and a 19th century slave-owner (or 19th century playwright playing a 19th century slave owner, to be exact).

Jacobs-Jenkins’s latest does not have the invention of The Octoroon. But what play does? Instead the premise here – a reunion - is dramatically speaking as tried and tested a framework for a play as it is possible to imagine.

In Washington State five former friends get together 20 years after they graduated before heading to a college reunion. There is however an uninvited guest. His name is Death and he has been awfully busy recently what with the pandemic. He inhabits any living or inanimate object he chooses, in this case the five friends who have congregated at one of the group’s quaint rural house before setting off to the main event. Each get their chance to host the smiter in chief who in turn tells us their history.

Directed by Eric Ting whose production of the play was first seen at New York’s Signature Theatre, the evening crackles with wit and an unsettling dark comedy punctuated by the sizzle of an ultra violet fly killer on Usrula’s (Tamara Lawrence) porch where the play is set.

Everyone in this proudly geeky group now lives the adult lives defined by their choices. The antagonist is artist Emilio (Anthony Welsh) who is exhibiting in New York but has been living in Berlin for 13 years. He takes no prisoners in his chiding of Catlin (Yolanda Kettle) for being married to Republican who supported the January 6 storming of Congress. Army veteran Paco (Ferdinand Kingsley) we learn was your Columbine-style quiet kid in the school and doesn’t really fit in with the geeky camaraderie of the group. But Kristina (Katie Leung) who does, brought him along because it might help with his post-Fallujah PTSD.

Paco knows Death better than all of others of course. So well in fact that sometimes can even see the smiter in chief, which prompts Paco to wonder who Death has turned up for this evening.

Tension stalks the evening as we wait to learn the reason behind Death’s visit. But what really grips is watching how each member of the group attempts to assert themselves as fully formed human beings only to find that they are each exactly as they were twenty years before. Not a profoundly revelatory lesson, but it is extremely well told

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