At the end of the month, Jack will leave its Brooklyn space for another, bigger Brooklyn space. But before it exits — stage left, right and center — the theater is hosting one last play, going out the way it came in: weirdly.
A new home seems like cause for celebration, but William Burke’s semi-unparsable “Variations on the Main” is an elegy with a side of rage room. A housecooling party, it is a meditation on loss and what might come after. And there are leaf blowers.
The show, co-directed by Mr. Burke and Bryn Herdrich and performed by three actresses — Kate Benson, Marisela Grajeda Gonzalez and Layla Khosh, with the composer Catherine Brookman, who plays the piano and loops her voice live — arranges the audience in a circle with what looks like an unfurled parachute at the center. (Megan Lang did the design.) In turns, the women speak elliptically about the strangeness of ordinary life.
Mr. Burke has a gift for malapropisms — “it’s a weight of time” — and a nice way of making ordinary words go twisty-turny. “My friend texts me to tell me it’s snowing wherever she is, and I’m supposed to do the same,” one character says. But, for the first 40 minutes or so, the speakers dart in and around meaning, and nothing makes much sense. (Sometimes scenes repeat and don’t make much sense twice.)
The script includes helpful stage direction, and it might have been nice if someone had said it out loud: “This is a theatrical séance. … We will try and fail and try again and ask for a commitment to our fellow humans sharing our air.” This at least is clarifying.
Later, the cast and a few audience members enthusiastically rip foil from Jack’s walls. (Layers and layers and layers of aluminum have silvered the space since it opened; it will all be gone by the end of the show’s run.) And Ms. Khosh delivers a more straightforward monologue, a series of questions that asks everyone to imagine the consequences of his or her death: “Will they realize your passionate love of Bach got you in trouble? Will there be a transcendent beer made in your name?” There’s a faux-naïve refrain: “Will there be hugs?”
Since Jack opened in 2012, Mr. Burke has presented several plays there. Once, he stuck actors in a spiderweb above the audience; another time, he brought in a bunch of dogs. Like “Variations on the Main,” these were theatrical experiments that never quite proved their hypotheses. But it was nice to know that New York still had spaces for the vanguard and bizarre.
And so it is nice to be at “Variations on the Main,” though it’s cutesy and too abstract, and the leaf blowers, which send foil scraps and flower petals winging through the space, are a bit much. Even in its nonsensical moments, the play asks us to be, to breathe, to think about what it means to scarf down air, together, in a space that will soon be empty of everything but air.
Before the show, I asked Mr. Burke if he had anything special planned for March 30, the final night of the show and the final night of this iteration of Jack. He said he did, though he wouldn’t say what it was. Will there be hugs? Probably.
Variations on the Main
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Variations on the Main
Through March 30 at Jack, Brooklyn; jackny.org. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.
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