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'Designated Mourner' asks tough questions about human nature
Published in 10-1-2017
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If you get to know "The Designated Mourner" and grow fond of its enigmatic, probing use of words, you might in turn become bored with every other, more inferior play whose characters say exactly what they mean, ask only the obvious questions and exist in worlds whose mysteries lie merely in plot, rather than within individual sentences and ideas. Because this play's three characters approach their monologues sideways, and pleasurably so, every other method can appear stale by comparison. Wallace Shawn's 1996 play, staged at the Catastrophic Theatre through Jan. 15, floats in a realm of curiosity and heartbreak. Devoid of clichés and predictability, it's a play with none of the machinery of theater, yet it brings forth ideas and images of such primacy you'll chew on them for days, their piquant tastes and textures lingering like cinnamon. To call "The Designated Mourner" a timely examination of the downfall of sensitivity, intellectualism and human rights at the hand of a fascist government would be accurate enough, as it would be to say that its sense of paranoia is an apt reflection of current times. [...] The Designated Mourner" is also about the way tea tastes, the beauty of a shoulder blade, the uneasy feeling of looking at yourself in the mirror, the paradox of liking poetry and the melancholic satisfaction of remembering the dead.