For freshly arrived Brooklynites, Red Hook’s IKEA doesn’t just sell cheap furniture — it’s a showcase of hopes and dreams.
And like the “Lack” side tables and “Billy” bookshelves sold at the utilitarian Swedish design shop, those aspirations don’t age well in “Leaving IKEA,” a pair of plays directed by David A. Miller.
Part “Waiting for Godot,” part “Twilight Zone,” the two IKEA inspired works are a satire of the optimistic and naive belief that new furniture — easily assembled with just one Allen wrench — can solve all of life’s problems.
The characters in the two plays (each one running at about an hour and fifteen minutes) wander the IKEA (one is set in the Elizabeth location, the other in Red Hook) as their relationships begin to buckle under the weight of having to meet the conservative parents from Idaho, and the impending arrival of baby, respectively.
When the two couples decide they want out, they realize the Swedish furniture store has transformed. There are no arrows directing them to the exit, and the usually very helpful employees are the only other people stuck in the purgatory of meatballs and reasonably priced throw pillows.
The play brilliantly stages the action, which time-travels to scenes from the characters’ pasts and their bizarre present circumstances, all in the prefabbed living rooms and bedrooms of an IKEA showroom.
The huge space at the Brooklyn Lyceum seems on the verge of falling apart, with exposed beams and a furiously spinning ceiling fan twenty five feet above the audience, but it’s ideal for setting up mock nesting-spaces. The effect is both intimate, like a house, and threatening, like adult-life on the verge of consuming your frail, frail youth.
The leads, Jason Carden and Shane Taylor, and Molly Lloyd and Marshall York, are well cast as the two couples.
Carden wears the stoic optimism of a man who’s lied to his parents his whole life and hoped he could get away with it, and Taylor plays the charming but evasive boyfriend who would rather call the whole thing off and — leave IKEA.
Lloyd does a wonderfully sassy yet tender mother-to-be, trying to sell the idea of fatherhood to York’s character, a lanky man-child who loves the idea of being a father but freezes up when faced with the floor-model of a crib. Lloyd has the alertness of a young know-it-all go-getter whose enthusiasm becomes the drowsy resignation of a guy who wants to simply stay in and watch a movie, and forget the whole baby thing.
In the supporting cast of IKEA employees, John Gardner and Lauren Singerman stand out. Gardner’s character, “Hank,” seems to be the older more realistic version of hipster youth we all know, wearing a tired yet determined expression on his face and delivering his lines in a monotone constantly on the verge of breaking. Singerman, too, knowingly cracks the comic tableau of a young person planning for the future, playing the part of a writer-character just trying to make ends meet, lacking ambition (and a lucky break) — but holding onto a heaviness in her heart you can see in her weary eyes.
Playwrights Monica Flory and Dano Madden both deserve praise for the tightly structured works — though Madden’s vignette boasts better character development and a superior conclusion.
It’s not easy to suspend disbelief when juggling time traveling, an IKEA purgatory, and an evil gnome (dressed as a yellow and blue employee), but the play manages to get past the insanity of the situation, never fixating for too long on the strangeness of it all.
It consistently hits the human notes — acting as a metaphor for young people who are put in the bizarre position of shopping for their futures.
You’ll feel the poignancy the next time a house guest tells you they have that same end table.
“Leaving IKEA” at Brooklyn Lyceum [227 4th Ave., between Union and President streets (718) 857–4816. www.brooklynlyceum.com] 8 pm Thurs.–Sat., 7 pm Sun., through June 24. $18, $15 students.