Defunkt's current production of Charles Mee's The Investigation of the Murder in El Salvador observes a group of upperclass bourgeois pricks as they schmooze over luncheon in an El Salvadorian resort while political violence rages outside in the street. Servants enter to serve food; they exit; a scream is heard; and the servants reenter covered in blood. The main characters ignore it all, choosing instead to sit and shoot the shit for 90 minutes.
Ignorance is one of the main themes in this play, for the characters revel in using their wealth to ignore the troubled world around them. The dialogue is ripe with references to cricket, hunting, and various other excessively luxurious diversions, and director James Moore adds to the group's detachment by making their very existence feel out of place from reality. Interactions are stilted, fraught with agonizing pauses and excessively long bouts of maniacal laughter. The entire experience can be unnerving for an unprepared viewer. I've encountered Mee's work in the past and know him to be a playwright who kicks out transitions in favor of jarring leaps from one extreme emotional state to another. The audience Thursday night didn't know whether to laugh, or solemnly shake their heads at how shamelessly neglectful these people really are.
That's a good thing, incidentally, to be torn between laughing and groaning. But unfortunately, this production still ultimately fails, due in large part to its technical aspects, which include slides and a fairly complex sound design. The lights were too bright to make the slides legible half the time, and when they were legible, they always seemed to be cut off by one of the heads of the rich snoots. They didn't make any sense anyway, as far as I could tell, and the soundscape was incomprehensibly artsy: a mish mash of Oregon public radio experts, music, and spacey sound effects that rarely seemed to illuminate the action onstage. If the tech had been less prominent, it might have been less problematic because Mee's language is always compelling. But the slide projectors were noisy, the sound cues even noisier, and the stage too small to ignore the confusing images that were constantly being flashed across the walls.
Despite the technical flaws, however, the performances are uniformly stellar and Mee's ideas on exploitation and violence are provocative and relevant. Some meaningful moments do exist in this fog of sloppy production values; you just have to squint to see them.