Residents of a nursing home, two senile old woman share shifting memories of their pasts in "Irma & Emma" by Cornelius Schnauber, translated from the German by Tom Schnauber and directed by Louis Fantasia.
Now in its U.S. premiere in the MET Theatre's tiny Great Scott space, "Irma" is supposedly a black comedy -- but despite a few scanty chuckles along the way, it appears that something has been lost in this translation.
Decked out like the Madwoman of Chaillot, flamboyant Irma (Laura James) converses with self-effacing Emma (Dorothy Constantine) while struggling with a maddeningly elusive shawl -- a costume element that should be reconsidered. Terrified of a (clumsily metaphoric) tormentor known as the Sandman, the women plot an escape.
Schnauber's exhaustingly repetitive one-act is obviously intended as an absurdist send-up with weighty philosophical overtones. And indeed, Irma and Emma's blurred recollections of Hitler's Reich are genuinely provocative, while James and Constantine's portrayals are authoritative if uninspired. But the piece's tautological themes and Fantasia's static staging stretch our attention span to the outermost limit.