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3-part disharmony

Tirade for Three a compelling foray into abstract theater

Dwelling in a dark space are three men, each in white shirts with dark ties. Two perform an act of violence on the third while all speak clipped lines of dialogue. Are they killers or performers? Is this a police interrogation or the rehearsal for Reservoir Dogs 2?In literal terms, they're actors Trent Merchant, John Fischer and Rob Nixon, performing Tirade for Three at PushPush Theater. Beyond that, it's difficult to specify who exactly they're portraying in Murray Mednick's new play, a plotless, nonlinear reverie on random violence and the nature of life, which can prove intriguing based on your tolerance for abstract theater.
Tirade keeps the audience off balance from the very beginning, with the players initially speaking in half sentences of one-syllable words that frequently sound like non sequiturs. Eventually we discover the motivating emotions behind their menacing postures and charged words: They're exploring their own horror and rage at the death of a young boy in a random act of street crime, which leads to larger questions such as, "Is there a cause for pain?"
As the play progresses, the identical-seeming threesome begin to distinguish themselves. Merchant portrays the more overtly aggressive, ruthlessly practical "Alpha Male" of the group. Fischer's remarks hinge more on feelings, but also prove the most sardonic. Nixon takes the most vulnerable, contemplative and questioning role, with his voice "feeling" the most autobiographical. They may all be different aspects of the same personality, taking the roles of id, ego and superego in an internal monologue.
Nixon gradually begins speaking for Gordon, the father of the slain boy, giving the play some concrete details. We learn that Gordon needs surgery for cataracts, has a failed marriage and occasionally works for a film business, which he despises. As if rehearsing theatrical scenes, Fischer briefly plays Gordon's wife and Merchant, a preening producer, but most of Tirade stays at the same level of difficulty.
Audiences expecting an easy, "well-made play" needn't give Tirade for Three a second thought. At one point Merchant states, "Movies are intended ... life has no stories," and Mednick seems purposefully writing in as untraditional and uncinematic way as possible. Attempting to replicate stream of consciousness, the play strips away story, characters and chronological structure, but retains the responses to certain events and their implications about life, sex, money, mortality and other matters. But compared to the abstractions of 7 Stages' recent Samuel Beckett monologue Texts for Nothing, Tirade benefits from the restless motion of the three actors and their nods to the real world.
Directed by Tim Habeger, the PushPush production draws attention to its theatricality, with the set appearing intentionally unfinished and the actors adjusting the lightboard in full view of the audience. The 60-minute performance allows the audience plenty of eye contact with the actors, an off-putting touch that conveys the kind of intimacy the play seems to seek.
PushPush describes itself as "a workshop theater for Atlanta audiences and actors," and Tirade overtly fulfills that spirit. When the play proper is over, the evening features a talk-back/rap session of about a half-hour that usefully explores the play's enigmatic aspects. It's still not easy to nail down exactly what Tirade for Three is, but uninteresting it's not.
Tirade for Three plays through Oct. 7 at PushPush Theater, 1123 Zonolite Road, Suite 3. Performances are Wed.-Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 7 p.m. $10-$15. 404-892-7876.



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