Monday, May 21, 2012

theatre review ARE YOU THERE, MCPHEE?, McCarter Theatre, May 18

The McCarter theatre is ending its season with the world premiere of a new play by John Guare, Are You There McPhee?  Best known for writing The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, Guare has delivered an overstuffed play of crazy proportions that while never boring unfortunately is too long, unfocused and gets lost along the way. 

McPhee is crazy and wacky with too many strange subplots to mention.   With a strange sense of "what will happen next?" the play centers on a playwright, Edmund Gowery, telling the story of what happened to him in 1975 when he took the money he made from his one hit play and invested it in a rental house in Nantucket, though he had actually never visited that island before.  The house was formerly owned by the daughter of a famous children's book author, and children or more so the theme of "lost children," factor importantly into the play. 

Paul Gross and John Behlmann
When the tenants who are renting the Nantucket apartment are accused of running a mail order child pornography ring, Gowery must go to Nantucket to prove he had no knowledge of what was happening in his house. There he finds that everyone he encounters played a part in a production of his one hit play that he was invited to attend but declined to do so.  Many of these individuals hold it against him that he didn't see their production which they claim many say was better than the original .  While every one of these Nantucket residents are somewhat crazy characters the wackiest are McPhee, a love struck man with a giant lobster in a cooler who sends Gowery to a house with the lobster to wait for McPhee's girlfriend, and Peter and Wendy (that lost children theme again) who Gowery finds in the house he is sent to and who are watching two children there who's parents are away.  The parents of those two kids include the children's book author's daughter that Gowery bought the house from and who are off in California hoping to sell the rights of the children's books to Walt Disney.  Gowery soon finds himself watching the two kids when Peter and Wendy disappear.  With the many plot points and characters in constant motion, Gowery and the audience is continually trying to figure out what is happening around him, what will happen next and how this will all come together. 

Add to the mix that this is the summer of Jaws, which plays endlessly at the movie theatre in town and Gowery finds everyone he encounters is reading the book the movie was based on.  Also, Gowery has been asked to write the screenplay for a remake of Hitchcock's Suspicion, a film whose plot centers on whether or not a husband is out to kill his wife which is a theme also mirrored in McPhee. The remake is to be directed by Roman Polanski and star Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.  Everything that he encounters in Nantucket makes him question if he can use it in either a way to have the Fonda and Redford characters meet each other or if he can incorporate it into a future play. 

Gross and the craziness around him,
puppets included.
Like I said above, a lot is jammed into the plot of this play and it mostly resembles a nightmare of crazy and I've only mentioned about 1/2 of the various plot elements.  Oh, did I mention there are also several puppets in the production as well?

Now Guare did visit Nantucket in 1975 and marry a girl he met there and he has declined seeing productions of his play including one a few years back at Princeton.  He has also written the screenplay for Atlantic City which earned him an Oscar nomination.  So one wonders how much if any of McPhee is autobiographical. 

Paul Gross who hardly ever leaves the stage is delivering a fascinating and solid performance as Gowery.  He is smartly dressed, looks great and provides a grounded center for the lunacy that happens around him. John Behlmann as McPhee plays an almost mirror image of Gowery with his shaggy dog look including his scraggly beard and cut off jeans. He is a man crazy in love and prepared to let nothing get in his way. The rest of the cast achieves the appropriate level of zaniness to make the play never seem outright silly or pretentious, which is a rare feet with everything that happens in this play.

McPhee is a roller coaster of a play and director Sam Buntrock delivers expertly in his direction of ensuring the cast is always achieving the sense of heightened zaniness the play requires.  I also appreciated the sense of surrealism in the play especially in the sets by David Farley that are extremely inspired, especially the Magritte themed room in the Nantucket home Gowery bought. 

While there are a few moments of inspired madness especially in the scenes between McPhee and Gowery, at over 2 1/2 hours the play runs a little long and doesn't exactly find a way for the many themes of the show and multiple plots to come together into a message or meaning.  I'm not sure if this is simply a play by an established playwright that needs considerable trimming and a better focus and McCarter was blinded by the fact that it was a new world premiere of a play by John Guare or if I simply missed the point Guare was trying to make.   I did like the crazy plot and characters and I'm hoping that with some editing as well as a more refined ending that better wraps everything up that McPhee will find its way in a future production of the play.

Are You There, McPhee? runs through Juned 3rd.

Official McCarter Theatre Site

A brief preview of this production -

No comments:

Post a Comment