In Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s grim drama “Flood,” we meet a sad-sack retired couple. He, Darren, spends his time sitting behind his desk making some kind of wooden model and lamenting the perfidy of his grown children. She, Edith, laments her empty nest as this stereotypical couple kvetches, complains and engages in the kind of meaningless blather one associates with the theater of the absurd.
I’m reluctant to call plays ageist. Playwrights should be free to use symbols and metaphors rather than recognizable people, and arriving at a certain age does not exempt you from parody or criticism. But looking around the theater at the loyal, mostly older Shattered Globe audience opening night, I saw a lot of smiles that did not seem to be moving. The two lead actors in the show, H.B. Ward and Linda Reiter, are distinguished artists whose presence enhances any script, but these characters are, quite frankly, bordering on the offensive. They certainly are penned with little truth, the best effort of the actors notwithstanding. But every time they talk about their children, books fall off the shelves.
That’s because Deen has written an environmentalist allegory with absurdist underpinnings. After a few minutes, we meet the couple’s underwritten children, each speaking on tin-can phones. Darren Junior (Carl Collins) and Edith Junior (Sarah Patin) are fighting off rising waters and looking for help from a generation that, it’s pretty clear, Deen blames for the climate crisis. But the older parents are too lost in their narcissism to help their kids. Nobody connects, which is the playwright’s point, but also makes for 90 minutes that feels twice that long.
Since the elders live in a highrise (unlike their already waterlogged kids) you guess pretty fast where this plot is going. And I’ll wager you’ll figure what model Darren is building well before the big reveal.
All in all, and notwithstanding some cool projections from Smooch Medina, this is an obvious and dull show. It doesn’t work (for me, at least) because Deen is trying to mix a nondidactic style (absurdism) with the most unsubtle kind of moralism. I think he intends this to be a comedy but there are few, if any, laughs in this staging from director Kenneth Prestininzi.
For the record, you certainly can worry yourself sick about climate change and not like this facile play, a weird choice for this very distinguished Chicago theater company.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Flood” (1 star)
When: Through March 9
Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Tickets: $15-$40 at 773-770-0333 and sgtheatre.org