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Review: WINK – an excellent example of absurd comedy at Main Stage West

A man seeks a therapist to understand why he has just killed and skinned his wife’s cat. His wife seeks the therapist to explore her fantasy of being raped by a terrorist. Or possibly of becoming a terrorist. The therapist really needs help to understand his latent attraction to – wait - a dead cat? Meanwhile, the dead cat seeks the therapist to – Okay. It’s complicated.

Michael Fontaine, Ilana Niernberger. Lauren Heney photo.
Michael Fontaine, Ilana Niernberger. Lauren Heney photo.

“Wink” by Jen Silverman, currently playing at Main Stage West, is funny, punchy, and slick. The play begins in an innocuous-looking living room, but from the opening lines, spoken by characters who are not – quite - normal, it quickly becomes the setting for some kind of heightened reality. By the time one of the characters hilariously tears the room apart, your own ideas and perceptions are similarly tossed into the air, to land where they may. Who knows what this show is all about? Does it matter?

The therapist (Michael Fontaine) counsels the man (John Browning) to “shove it down.” Clearly, his mantra is that life can only be successfully lived by suppressing your most primal instincts and feelings. He recommends the wife (Ilana Niernberger) shove it down by resorting to housework. “There is no joy in unpredictability,” he asserts. Life is to be controlled, structured, pacified and resisted, at all costs.

Enter Wink, the cat. Yes, that’s right, the dead, skinned cat, miraculously resurrected in the shape of an actor, in this case the wonderful Sam Coughlin who brings humor and physicality in spades and is worth the price of admission alone. With his entrance, the play gently lurches away from any last vestiges of reality as the cat takes control and all the characters, unable to keep anything “shoved down,” dramatically unravel – or find their true selves, perhaps.

Ilana Niernberger. Lauren Heney  photo.
Ilana Niernberger. Lauren Heney photo.

Absurd comedy is not for everyone. As a member of the audience, you simply have to roll with it. Yes, you may pick up some allusions and try to find underlying meanings – how many ways can you skin a cat, for example, is something you will find yourself asking during this show, while simultaneously having no idea what it would mean to know the answer. But ultimately, absurdism can be hugely liberating, if you let it. It obliges you to lose all your preconceptions, temporarily suspend your disbelief, and laugh.

In the hands of this uniformly strong and fully committed cast, underpinned by assured direction from James Pelican, that is exactly what happens in this excellent, well-paced production. You may not know precisely what you are laughing at, but you’ll feel happier, lighter, for doing so. Just remember to leave your own convictions at the door.

“I’m not sure I’m any better off for having seen that show,” commented one audience member as he left the theater. “But I really enjoyed it.” That’s absurd comedy, in a nutshell. It lifts you up, throws you around, shakes out your pockets, and lightly deposits you back where you started. It makes you think for a moment about loneliness, emotional fragility, how close we all are to the edge. And then it’s gone. Wink and you might miss it.

WINK plays at Main Stage West, Sebastopol until June 25. Run time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Show times and tickets at

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