This subplot is interspersed with scenes from a family car trip from hell and Kristi's anorexic adolescent anguish as Gary ponders whether to go to city college or "destroy the universe." In the end, as the characters make love, war, art, and friends in no particular order, the second option looks increasingly enticing to our hero, if only to clear the way for something new.
Smartly staged by Sean Daniels (moonlighting from his position as associate artistic director at the California Shakespeare Theater), Big Death and Little Death speaks to this imploding universe loudly and affirmatively, forefingers and pinkies extended. In Birnbaum's optimistic apocalypse, there's a difference between the annihilation of the system and the creative destruction that envisions a new beginning on the horizon.
The umbilical link between big and little deaths brings to mind the Vietnam-era "little murders" in Jules Feiffer's even more prescient black comedy of an American culture of self-destruction. One's tempted to call Birnbaum's play the Little Murders of our day.
But neither can really compete with the culture they so sharply critique nor prove as strange or fitting as the news of the dean of West Point ganging up with human rights activists, the FBI, and military in-terror-gators to chastise the creators of 24 for feeding US soldiers too many tantalizing torture techniques. Seems almost a chicken-and-egg problem at times, this relationship between big death in Iraq (and Afghanistan and beyond) and little death on the tube. It's quite a food chain too, bringing to mind that serpent devouring its own tail. Come to think of it, Ouroboros would make an excellent name for a death metal band. *
BIG DEATH AND LITTLE DEATH
Through March 4
Wed.Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
Traveling Jewish Theatre
470 Florida, SF