ANTHOLOGY: ANTI-MATTER

Plays: Moronicus Lostica, Descent, Anti-Matter

Directors: Louis Viljoen, Joanna Evans

Cast: Andrew Laubscher, Brendon Daniels

Until: Saturday at Alexander Upstairs

Rating: ****

When black humour and high intelligence come together in a sharp script, the result is absorbing entertainment. Each piece is only 15 minutes long, so economy is of the essence.

First up is Joanna Evans’s Anti-Matter. Two men both named John, of very different temperament, trace philosophical arabesques and finally concur in ultimate nihilism despite starting off from opposing points. Laubscher, playing the guitar-strumming and inept singer, engages Daniels as the destructive carpenter in nutty dialogue – and never was there a more perfect mismatch. The former’s dead-pan delivery contrasts brilliantly with the latter’s gruff expressiveness to enhance Evans’ subtle text.

Their personalities are played off against one another to even greater comic effect in Jon Keevy’s Descent. Here two men are trapped in a lift en route to a function, and forced into the unwelcome camaraderie born of shared panic. Gradually they reveal the truth behind their outward personae as Theo (Laubscher) evolves from a world-weary, gum-chewing, washed-up TV celebrity into something like a human being, while Karl (Daniels), a fan with a latent agenda, becomes increasingly invasive. Cynicism meets naivety with dollops of satire as the doomed pair trade views on the human condition before deciding on the logical way out of it all…

Louis Viljoen’s direction is masterly both in this playlet and in his own, the finale of the evening.

Moronicus Lostica is every bit as zany as its title suggests. The Roman general Titus Flavius Virilus (Laubscher) and his Moorish slave Rudy (Daniels) find themselves in a disquieting limbo after a bloody battle. Have they survived? Are they dead? Both are attired in dull tunics which efface the previous difference in their respective social ranks, and Titus questions the new status quo. He occasionally drifts into other personae with a very un-Roman American drawl, adding to the surreal quality of this dialogue. Florid and bellicose speech alternates with exchanges in natural idiom, culminating in a question that sums up most speculation about our universe: “What the #@*k is going on?”

Brilliant theatre.