“Fights about furniture become fights about the issues that, perhaps, have been buried or ignored for months and years,” says Dano Madden, one of the playwrights behind Leaving Ikea, a quasi-paranormal relationship comedy. “Ikea has become a name people simply understand as a maze of exhaustion and relationship hell.” 30 Rock even did an episode about it. But this new two-part work by the Artful Conspirators—the Brooklyn-based theater company behind last year’s Brooklyn Underground, which was about and performed at Green-Wood Cemetery—has been in development for almost four years, since it won every night at a pitch to an audience of theater concepts called 30 ideas, 3 of them good.
In this now fully developed work (directed by David A. Miller at Park Slope’s Brooklyn Lyceum, through June 24), two couples facing turning points in their relationships—one half of one, a gay couple, is about to come out to his conservative parents and introduce his boyfriend (who doesn’t know he’s still closeted); the other couple, hetero, is weeks from having a baby—become trapped in a magical, quasi-sentient Ikea that obscures its exits to twosomes in crisis, thrusting them into a hellish alternate dimension where they must work through their issues before they’re released.
The first canto (yes, they’re called cantos, playfully, to evoke a touch of Dante), written by Madden and set in Elizabeth, NJ, is a kind of Eternal Sunshine-lite, in which the characters slip in and out of their memories and the nightmarescape, alternately embodying their present selves, past selves, and each other. In the second, written by Monica Flory and set in Red Hook, a quartet of Macbeth-like witches/Ikea employees, commanded by a fetus-napping gnome, lead the couple as in A Christmas Carol through their pasts and into a possible future, forcing the mom-and-dad-to-be to confront their insecurities about impending parenthood.
Both halves employ your standard Ikea signifiers: meatballs and mazes, gnomes, child care and lingonberries. And both are set on the same showroom set, featuring a bedroom display, a dining room display, and a living room display, all of which must have involved countless hours of allen wrenching by poor set designer Jen Varbalow. And both feature characters that “get dismantled by the strange forces of Ikea,” as Flory puts it, reduced Humpty Dumpty-like to boxes of shambled pieces. “They have to put themselves, and their relationships, back together again.” One allen wrenched piece at a time.
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