The members of Pig Iron are masters of the egghead deadpan. Based in Philly, their work has vaudevillian theatricality—slamming doors, bowler hats, and broad physical comedy—with a fertile intellectual subtext. Their 2004 production Hell Meets Henry Halfway turned Witold Gombrowicz’s novel Possessed into brainiac sexy farce; in Shut Eye, men in suits bounced around a hospital. Here, Temple Grandin’s conception of autism is mediated by Chekhov’s principles of drama. It’s vaudeville at its most touching and minimal, with barely any props.
The title character is the alter ago of Dmitri (rendered with excellent quirk by James Sugg), a man who mopes silently throughout. Frock-coated and full of braggadocio, he exhorts the audience to witness his frozen memories of childhood friendships with three Chekhovian brothers. When Pyotr (played with hearty mania by Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel) booms, “You look very healthy and happy and well-adjusted,” the audience cackles. Dmitri, for his part, looks like a zombie.
Is this funny ha-ha? The pliable expressions and expostulation of the cast, guided through their intricately timed maneuvers by director Dan Rothenberg, draw loud laughter. But this comedy has more to do with Schaden than Freude.