THE CANNIBAL MASQUE
“‘The Cannibal Masque’ and ‘A Serpent’s Egg’ are the second and third plays respectively in a provocative trilogy by Ronald Ribman that began at the American Repertory Theater in February with ‘Sweet Table at the Richelieu.’ Just as allusively complex as their forerunner, these two brief plays flesh out—the verb is apt!—Ribman’s central theme which is human appetite…Writing with a poetic grace that disturbingly heightens some of the philosophical horror he puts before us, Ribman focuses on the diner who becomes the dinner, the victor who becomes the victim. In a combined running time of 75 minutes, the two new plays are a last supper before the death of civilization.
“‘Cannibal Masque’ is set in a café in Bavaria during the famine of 1923. A gruff workman enters and orders ‘good eats,’ which he specifies as plenty of fat pork, potatoes and thick gravy. He’s attended by a waiter whose pallid face is—literally and figuratively—the color of death. Also present are a woman pianist and another diner, both of whom are similarly ghost like. Since nothing in Ribman is precisely clear (except possibly his general tone of nihilism), the café can be taken for what it is or as a Sartreian corner of hell. Outside there is hunger. Inside there is the ‘strange divertissement’ of music, food, and confused identity (the waiter deludes himself that he is the son of ‘Germany’s greatest military leader,’ Paul von Hindenburg; the pianist imagines herself a concert artist). While the world shatters beyond the café’s doors, the occupants within sip schnapps, suck marrow from bones.
“And such it always is. In an age without hope—with the Holocaust still to come—there is only rapacious appetite, there is only the insatiable self, or, as a character coolly observes and without any rationalization at all: ‘In a time of famine one must do what one can to stay on the good side of the cook.’ Before Ribman has finished his metaphor the hapless diner has become nourishment for Death and Deaths two acolytes.” — Kevin Kelly, The Boston Globe
“Existentially speaking, Man is in the stew…playwright Ronald Ribman treats of the human appetite for its own kind—it’s a dog-eats-dog world as the dogma goes, and we are all, potentially, Alpo on the hoof. Trouble is, as Ribman sees it, you can’t always tell the diners from the dog food. Sometimes mutt and meal trade places—victim becomes victimizer as quick as the latter can blink…In this deft comedy of menace, a sort of Pinteresque parable, things are not as they seem.” — Carolyn Clay, The Boston Phoenix
“Although ‘The Cannibal Masque’ and ‘A Serpents Egg’, two one-acts by Ronald Ribman, received their permieres at the ART after his ‘Sweet Table at the Richelieu’ did, they are better viewed as preludes to that major work…Both plays are set in Beckettian landscapes where the sense of desolation is severe and the sense of hope has been reduced to ashes. The language is spare and mean, far more so than in the lush ‘Richelieu’. The characters are mean too, and the world is harsh and unforgiving.” — Joe Arena, Cambridge (Mass) Chronicle
“The Cannibal Masque,’ the remaining two portions of Ronald Ribman’s parable-like trilogy, breaks down the conventional distinctions we have about good and evil. The two-one act plays receiving world premieres during the American Repertory Theater’s New Stages series, pulls back the curtain on a world where the victim and the victimizer may be one and the same. Bundled together…the two plays, ‘The Cannibal Masque’ and ‘The Serpents Egg,’ are imaginative renderings of Ribman’s ideas about morality and social order.
“The Ribman trilogy is set in Europe, which in the playwright’s view is characterized by extremes of mind, body and soul. The third portion of the trilogy, ‘Sweet Table at the Richelieu’ was presented by ART at the Loeb Drama Center earlier in the season. If all three are ever staged in one evening as Ribman intends, it would be a rich, but troubling feast indeed.
“Both ‘The Cannibal Masque’ and ‘A Serpents Egg’ are a bit like short stories in that they present characters in brief and compelling scenes. At the end of each, there is an inclination to ask: Well, what happens next? The scenes presented are fleeting and brief. But the imagery detailed lingers in the mind like smoke in a still room. — Timothy C. Morgan, The Sentinel-Enterprise
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