We have Michael Shannon to thank – or possibly blame – for the first New York production of “The Killer,” a mystery drama by avant-garde playwright Eugene Ionesco, since its Off-Broadway premiere in 1960.
Shannon, who is now best known for appearing on the HBO television series “Boardwalk Empire” and in films like “Revolutionary Road” and “Man of Steel,” did “The Killer” in Chicago back in 1998 and apparently urged Theatre for a New Audience to produce the play as part of its inaugural season at its new theater in Brooklyn.
“The Killer” shares the same main character as “Rhinoceros,” the Ionesco play where people are suddenly turning into rhinoceroses.
Here, Berenger, a sort of everyman, discovers a seemingly pitch-perfect community that is being stalked by an unknown murderer. He becomes particularly distressed after a young woman he just met becomes the latest victim.
Upon discovering the villain’s private journal, he finds and confronts him, who responds to all of Berenger’s dramatic accusations with chortles of laughter, driving Berenger to despair.
Michael Feingold’s new translation is especially lucid. But at a length of three-plus hours, “The Killer” comes off as an excessively overwritten piece of existentialist musing with little dramatic substance or plot. Maybe that’s why no one does the play anymore.
Director Darko Tresnjak (“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”) emphasizes a noir atmosphere with shadowy lighting, smoke and a bare stage.
Shannon, who is known for his intensity, delivers another heightened performance that also incorporates detached contemplation and innocent comedy. Kristine Nielsen, who shined last season in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” stands out among the large ensemble cast in minor roles like a landlady and a strange political figure.
If you go:
“The Killer” plays at Theatre for a New Audience through June 29. 262 Ashland Pl., Fort Greene, tfana.org