Two perverted men in raincoats. On a park bench. Outside a girls’ school. Think you know what’s going on? Just wait til they start calling each other Sigmund and Karl, claiming to have witnessed events from a hundred years ago – throw in some torture talk and vague references to Chilean dictators, and you have quite a puzzle. Oh, and lots of flashing.
Washington Shakespeare Company’s production of Secret Obscenities is the kind of play that requires you to pay attention or you’ll get lost in the twists. Written by Marco Antonio de la Parra and set in 1980’s Chile, the two protagonists dance around the truth of their situation until the very end. Starting out as hysterically funny “dirty old men,” Brian Crane as Sigmund and Christopher Herring as Karl display enough antics to keep you entertained before delving into deep philosophical and political issues. There’s frantic physical comedy punctuated by well, dick jokes. Clocking in at a rapid 70 minutes, it explores what happens when you lose your identity to the totalitarian state.
The fun of the piece is how far it traps you in its multi-faceted identity web. Do the two men truly believe themselves to be Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx? Do they really get off on flashing little girls? Were they actually tortured and are now double-agents? And what’s going on underneath those raincoats? Those are a lot of questions to explore in a little over an hour, and co-directors Kari Ginsburg and Jay Hardee keep the pace moving. There’s a bit too much vocal affectation by the two leads for me to truly love it – things get “actor-y” at times – but the physical comedy is hilarious as they mimic clowns, drunks and traffic cops to hide their true characters.