Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Singing Forest

Photo/Carol Rosegg

"It's disgusting to use the Holocaust to distract from your own sins," shouts Laszlo (Randy Harrison), upset with his shrink-turned-lover, Oliver (Mark Blum). As it turns out, Oliver's finally being honest about his mother, Loë (Olympia Dukakis), and his billionaire nephew, Jules Ahmad (Louis Cancelmi), so he shouts back "Sometimes life just is preposterous, you know?" These two liberties end up forming the crux of Craig Lucas's latest play, The Singing Forest, a slovenly three-act play that aims to be about the farcical coincidences of serious drama but is instead a seriously inconsequential farcical drama.

In Lucas's defense, everything from the title to the ending is glib (The Singing Forest refers to the image of gays in Nazi Germany screaming as they were strung up from trees), so things are at least consistently inconsistent. And thanks to John McDermott's set of sliding doors, there's a visual reminder of how "God reveals himself in what we like to call coincidences." The play starts with clear segues, as Gray (Jonathan Groff) meets with a therapist, Shar (Rob Campbell), who then turns to his therapist, Oliver, to confess how he yearns for Gray. In turn, Oliver brags about this turn of events to Shar's ex, Laszlo--who happens to work at a Starbucks with Gray's girlfriend, Beth (Susan Pourfar), the same Starbucks in which Loë, Loë's daughter Bertha (Deborah Offner), and Loë's grandson Jules, all show up, albeit in ways in which they remain largely unrecognizable to one another. (Gray, meanwhile, is actually just shrink-shopping for Jules.)

As if that weren't exhausting enough, the scenes soon start overlapping with one another, forming odd parallels and taking on huge leaps. It is not enough, say, that Loë opts to run a sex-hotline as a way of secretively doling out psychiatric advice--she also takes on Gray as a client (he fears he no longer has an identity) and Shar, who falls in love for Loë's masked, older-male voice. Taking things one step further, the play leaps back in time--to Vienna during the rise of the Third Reich--with Loë watching her younger self (Pourfar) once again fail to save her friends, Sigmund Freud (Pierre Epstein) included. If it went anywhere, we could all sit back comfortably and proclaim Lucas to be a genius; instead, Lucas falls in love with his own juggling, which leads to the glibness of performance for performance's sake (and accounts for much of the bloated, near-three-hour production).

On the positive side of things, the cast is also swept up in this tide of performance, and director Mark Wing-Davey makes the most of the ridiculous to stage an amusing showdown in Staten Island. Characters hide in bathrooms, dressers, trunks, and under benches, brandishing guns and breaking down doors, though what this stands for or has to do with the overall theme of Freudian therapy (and the somewhat symbolic and only occasional use of Nazism to that end) is anyone's guess. If it's meant to provide contrast to Loë's past--rape and murder being no laughing matter--it fails. If anything, seeing Loë covered with the blood of a manipulative Nazi when the scene reverts to the present day is just more distracting: it's the mark of a failed illusion. It is, after all, disgusting to use the Holocaust as a distraction.

1 comment:

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Apropos of nothing, I love your new logo. Oh, and the show with Olympia Dukakis sounds kewl, too.