Caption: Anyone for Menace? Humans terrorize one another in Hell Meets Henry Halfway.

If, as Sartre contended, hell is other people, then the title character in the absurdist comedy Hell Meets Henry Halfway need hardly go out his front door to fulfill titular requirements. Bullied by a demanding and all-too-slowly-dying Prince (from whom he hopes to inherit), married to a casual slattern (who’s fooling around with her narcissistic tennis instructor), and pestered by a ball boy (who keeps lobbing tennis balls at his back), Henry is plenty tormented even before a hacking, limping doctor starts lobbying for a piece of his inheritance. The play, which Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company has adapted from a gothic tale by Polish novelist Witold Gombrowicz, first introduces its characters—most of whom pop from a witchy wardrobe that morphs into a railroad car or a squirrel-infested tree when required—and then pairs them off in verbal matches. Smashes, lobs, volleys and the occasional backhanded compliment ensue. “Nice bellybutton,” snorts the tennis instructor. “It’s a scab from being born,” replies his student. As characters and squirrels are slaughtered, bedpans upended, and relationships shredded, Adriano Shalpin’s text mixes the sharp (“If sleep is the cousin of death I want to meet his brother”) with the merely silly. The evening gets off to a mild, slightly scattered start, but gathers comic steam in a second act marked by increasing ferocity. And while it’s hardly linear in structure, it’s never hard to follow as Dan Rothenberg’s staging stylizes its absurdism, folding performers into pretzels in that wardrobe, then releasing them to skitter and strut as they torment one another. No one does this with more fierce gusto than Sarah Sanford’s acerbically disloyal wife, who heaps scorn on Dito van Reigersberg’s slow-to-burn Henry (“You’ve been waiting for this to decay into something like genuine love; I’ve been waiting for it to blossom into artifice”). But the others—Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel’s tennis pro, Bel Garcia’s crabbed and crabby Prince, Steve Cuiffo’s phlegm-plagued doctor, and James Sugg’s goofily adolescent ball boy—all have their moments, chiming in with taunts and tantrums as they toss around words and tennis balls with roughly equal abandon.

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