“I’ve been to the zoo,” is the jolting first line of Edward Albee’s historic one-act play, The Zoo Story. In a Little Room has similarities to it and could have benefited from such an opening salvo.
Charlie is in his early thirties and Manning is in his late thirties, and they’re in a shabby hospital waiting room. They’re sitting in silence, but after accidentally spilling coffee on a sleeping man there, they open up to each other. Each one has had a close relative die that day.
Mr. McElligott upends this slice of life premise into a Larry David-style shattering of conventional grieving. Interrupting the men’s confessionals are zany loudspeaker announcements à la M*A*S*H, a wacky doctor and a fire in the hospital.
The dialogue is rich, one-liners abound and there’s plenty of acute observations that are sidetracked by the hijinks. The characters are dramatically delineated, yielding strong roles for the actors.
With his breezy delivery, terrific comic timing and everyman persona, Jeb Kreager is highly engaging as Manning. The animated, wiry and bearded Luis-Daniel Morales is soulful and at times wildly funny as Charlie. Mr. Kreager and Mr. Morales have a marvelous chemistry together which energizes the play.
As several briefly appearing figures, David Triacca is dryly comic with his expressive facial features and intense speech patterns. Mr. Triacca’s sharp characterizations recall the work of Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show.
This is basically a two-men-in-a-room play and director Patrick Vassel’s staging skillfully comes up with a variety of lively ways of positioning the cast. The visual comedy is perfectly realized with bits involving looking for a magazine and spilling coffee.
The realistic hospital waiting room is authentically rendered by Zachary Zirlin’s meticulously detailed set. Katy Atwell’s lighting design is mostly a steady brightness with fiery bursts of red to symbolize the fire. All of the characters are expertly visualized by Evan Prizant’s artfully simple costume design.
Though laden with extraneous material that diminishes its impact, In a Little Room is at its core insightful and entertaining.
In a Little Room (through September 24, 2017)
Ten Bones Theatre Company
The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.tenbones.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission