Shattered Globe’s absurdist satire “Flood” is a winner

Linda Reiter (front) plays Edith and H.B. Ward is Darren in Flood, an absurdist, comedic new play by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen, directed by Kenneth Prestininzi.

Photo by Liz Lauren

The set design (by Lauren Nichols) for Shattered Globe’s production of Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s absurdist play Flood would feel right at home in a 50s or 60s TV show. Downstage we have a living room furnished with bold colors and formica in front of red brick walls with floor to ceiling shelving featuring pull-out storage boxes and what seems to be an endless series of red-bound books. There are “windows” too, presented in outline; more on them in a bit. Upstage (and on a raised level), is a work table where Darren (H.B. Ward), a father who does not know best, spends the whole play immersed in a private project that appears to consist of meticulously selecting toothpicks and popsicle sticks—though he insists that he is working with “wood”—and gluing them together in patterns that seem to pop fully formed from his head. Behind Darren hang several half-face masks he has apparently built; they match the one he wears over his face for almost the entire show, and indeed there is a space set aside on the wall for that one as well.

This is not a period piece, though, despite that design. Or, if it is, the period is undefinable. Darren and his wife Edith (Linda Reiter) are costumed for an earlier era, to be sure, and they relate to each other as if they were in one of those shows, but when their grown children appear (Carl Collins and Sarah Patin play Darren Junior and Edith Junior respectively), they could have been plucked right out of today’s world. (In fact, one of the Edith Junior costumes designed by Yvonne Miranda is fairly futuristic.) And the rain that is causing consternation for them—as well as anyone else not living on the 19th floor of a high-rise—seems to be the end-of-the-world variety. The elder Darren and Edith, of course, live on the 19th floor, where they enjoy their view of the ocean coastline and the shops below them while Darren works on his project and Edith wishes he would finish so they can finally have tea and then work through the myriad red volumes containing “unanswerable questions” that have come up as he has worked on it…and which Edith has dutifully recorded in their pages.

I mentioned that this is absurdist, right? Well, in addition to the otherness of their parents’ relationship, those modern children call their mother (and she answers) on phones made from tin cans and string. The younger Edith and Darren live in their own apartments on some lower floor in this same building…so they have a much clearer view of the water rising in what has become a never-ending rain. Edith, on that 19th floor and bizarrely looking out those windows to see sunshine, doesn’t take them seriously. Darren, who thinks of them as spoiled lost causes, certainly doesn’t either, even when the storm rages more fiercely and we see it streaming in a projection on the wall behind him.

This could be a play about climate change, and I suppose to some extent it is, since it is heading toward a flood that can only be called Biblical. But Deen is much more interested in the human elements here: the intergenerational relationships, the lack of any meaningful connection between the elder couple, Edith Senior’s almost desperate desire to make tea for her husband, who is always there but makes no attempt to take part in her world. The tea he constantly postpones would be a real connection, and his life is so full of failed connections that he will not risk another until he has finished his “masterpiece.” (Said masterpiece, when he finally shows it to Edith and to us, turns out to be extremely ironic on multiple levels.)

Ward and Reiter create a dynamic that is completely recognizable, if not realistic. He is the Man and she defers to him on everything, even when she can see out those windows that he is ignoring something important, even when she finally understands that her children might be in real trouble, that they might be in real trouble. But Darren is fully occupied with his creation and unable to see past the wooden mask he wears. The only changes that occur in their world are the occasional moments when several of the books suddenly fall from the shelves, a foreshadowing of the (fairly obvious) fact that these two will never get around to discussing the answers to their questions.

Flood is directed by Kenneth Prestininzi, who allows such a slow build that I almost started believing, near the start, that the play would be silent, like an old movie. (Edith standing near Darren’s table with her anticipatory teapot is a very early symbol of these two stationary ships passing each other in the night.) Deen’s play is a kind of Waiting for Godot for modern relationships: even if its protagonists ever connect, it would ultimately mean nothing.

Flood is a Shattered Globe Theatre production and is playing at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, until March 9. Tickets are available at the Theater Wit Box Office. For more Chicago reviews or show information, see chicagoonstage.com or theatreinchicago.com.

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