Theater Review: Severance

’severance.jpg’The play had started twenty minutes prior, and I had a weird feeling of unease. The house, stuffy from the stage fog, clouded my mind, and put the explanation just out of reach.

But then, as I watched a dramatic representation of the dying thoughts of a freshly beheaded obscure 19th Century Chinese woman, I figured it out: I just didn’t get it.

Sure, I get that Severance is made of vignettes, 30 mini-dramas of people (and one chicken) who suffer the misfortunate of leaving this earth in multiple pieces. I get that the play is supposed to be abstract, over-the-top and unsettling. And I even get that each piece is supposed to be 90 seconds long, the length of time the writer and director (Robert Olen Butler and David Jette, respectively) believe a decapitated head remains conscious.

(There is a fair amount of disagreement on this point. Some believe it is really only six to eight seconds. Others believe a half-minute, while still others believe the shock of losing ones body to the neck causes instantaneous death. Not surprisingly, there’s not a lot of current research on the topic, so the answer may never be known.)

But after all that getting and understanding, my brain still picks up nothing but white noise.

There seems to be no continuity, no larger point the play is attempting to make. The show tells the tales of those murdered, executed, killed in battle (or for dinner) as well as those who suffered horrific accidents. Some vignettes are of real people, others of mythical persons and beasts. Why, damnit?

The playbill includes, at the back, an exhortation to abolish the death penalty. This almost makes sense, until a closer inspection reveals the plea is, in fact, a paid advertisement.

Still, most of the vignettes, taken on their own, are very enjoyable, staged well and professionally–and in some instances, brilliantly–acted. The bits involving a Mississippi woman murdered in 2003, a court jester killed for a bad joke in the 15th century and an extraordinarily creepy portrayal of Nicole Brown Simpson are particularly memorable.

McCadden Place Theatre
1157 N. McCadden Place

Through March 31
Thursdays through Saturdays, 8 pm; Sundays, 2 pm

Tickets and Info