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The Zero Hour at Off the Wall

It's a chance to enjoy two amazingly talented women as a range of characters.

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In terms of plot, it's hard to figure out what The Zero Hour is all about. But in the figurative hands of Off The Wall Productions, what it's "about" is a chance for the audience to enjoy two amazingly talented women as a range of characters. Madeleine George's 2010 play, directed here by Robyne Parrish, moves quite briskly and conquers its many demands.

Neither of the two central characters has more than a tenuous grasp of reality. Rebecca (Erika Cuenca), the economic provider for the couple, becomes obsessed with her latest assignment to research and write a seventh-grade textbook and study guide on the Holocaust. Her partner, O (Daina Michelle Griffith), pretends to be "out" as a lesbian when she seems to be agoraphobic, mostly staying inside their apartment. But the real fun is that Griffith portrays all the people and/or hallucinations that unhinge Rebecca, while Cuenca turns herself into both their mothers (who exist only in O's head) with minimal costume change.

The play seems to have a lot to say about Nazis, honesty, love, commitment, human sexuality, mothers, atrocities and how wonderful the 7 train is. (I fully agree.) Except for the last, though, none of it is particularly coherent. Rebecca tries to convince herself of her honesty while dodging it. O loudly proclaims her love for Rebecca, then does something horrid to her. Every single time.

And running throughout Zero is the Holocaust, and how it is absolutely impossible to get one's brain around it. Is it the "gold standard" of atrocities? Does it excuse other genocides? How can we honestly talk about it when we refuse to recognize the behaviors that come too close to home, e.g. the ongoing persecution of homosexuals? And really, how different is Lebensraum from Manifest Destiny?

Like the main actors (not to neglect John Steffenauer in a small but significant scene), the design-tech team is also multi-faceted: Kim Crawford, technical director and props; Rich Preffer, set design, costumes and master carpenter (assisted by Rikki Costiloe); Ryan McMasters, sound and music; plus Bob Steineck, lighting; and stage manager Heidi Nagle.

The subjects are serious but The Zero Hour is funny and polished.

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