“Every time they fire up The Large Hadron Collider, they open up a portal to a parallel universe,” a character in The Conspiracists points out. What’s more, “the collider was fired up 12 hours ago.” Quite promising for the first scene of a play. Or the second or third, for that matter. And indeed, we hear these lines in all three scenes of The Conspiracists, a clever play by Max Baker. The three scenes all take place at 8:47 pm on November 1, 2016, in the same church basement. The Under-35 Conspiracy Theorists Addict Support Group is holding their weekly meeting in each scene. “My name is Win and I’m addicted to conspiracy theories,” its leader announces.
The three scenes are alike in many of their particulars. The four regular attendees of the group are the same. We find Jo sitting alone when the lights come up; Win enters and says “Oh, hey Jo.” Then the other two regulars and a newcomer join them. The newcomer has a different name in each scene, although she’s played by the same actress.
The group discusses issues from CERN and computationalism to reptilians and Santa Claus. Nibiru Planet X, we learn, will cause the end of humanity. And the person who designed the pattern on Oreos was a member of the Illuminati.
While the simultaneous evenings these truthers spend together are much the same, each is an individual. Mr. Baker has written variations on a template. And he gives us a fascinating sensation of déjà vu.
There’s no plot here, only a few events. Mr. Baker directs the show for Stable Cable Lab Co. at the IRT Theater. He keeps us involved through the physical details and subtle personal interactions of ordinary life. They’re presented with terrific dramatic truth. A trivial incident like folding a chair because there’s a smudge on its seat becomes significant when we’re in a parallel universe.
The pivot of the events is the newcomer to the group, named Madonna, Steve or Hilda, depending on which reality we’re in. Each has a different effect on the group. They’re meant to be distinct characters, but the single actress in the roles fails to distinguish between them adequately. Worse, she’s given some silly things to do.
The cast, however, display an honest, eloquent moment-to-moment stage life, always sure of themselves. Chief among them is Sofiya Cheyenne. She’s always emotionally grounded, and her array of expressions forms a complex, intriguing character.
Mr. Baker has directed with meticulous care. He and his actors work with a clear, distinct analysis. The performance is a series of interlocking emotions as the characters pass the evening together.
The Conspiracists would be more satisfying if each scene had a structured story. But the show clocks in at less than 90 minutes, and we’d be happy to see more of it – that’s a lot to say for a piece of theater.