The fact that "The Private Lives of Eskimos" (or "16 Words for Snow") playwright Ken Urban teaches at Harvard must lend credence to his surreal exploration of disconnected modern life, right? Right?
The story of Marvin (Adam Breske), a man who erroneously believes himself responsible for his sister’s sudden violent death, "Eskimos" presents a world in which technology has “loosened the glue” binding each person to him or herself. People wear gas masks and spout internet spam, and black snow falls from the sky. Amidst the discombobulating chaos of such a world, Marvin, searching for an anchor, clings first to his girlfriend (Darci Nalepa) and then to the mysterious woman who answers his cell phone after he loses it.
At times funny, often deliberately discordant, "Eskimos" doesn’t do much more than recycle the tropes and echo the themes of most dystopian fiction. (A gas mask, really?) As a whole the cast is fine, with Joel Ewing taking an amusing turn as the quintessential office amigo who would just as soon claim your ideas as his own as cover for you. But it’s Alison Connelly as the detective cum dominatrix who speaks the line which seems to destabilize the play. “Words,” she says, “should be obvious and say stuff. Ambiguity is for pussies.” Maybe if I taught at Harvard I’d be capable of discerning whether Urban means to poke holes in his own ambiguous script, or whether Conelly’s line is just as open to interpretation as the rest of this frenzied, vague play.