Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Invitation

If Harold Pinter is known for his pregnant pauses, then Brian Parks must be lauded for aborting his, for he's a playwright who skewers social boundaries at supersonic speeds. Think, if you must, of an unhinged Tracy Letts. The Invitation, his latest, starts with a wickedly smart dinner party that quickly sets up its credentials by namedropping Tchaikovsky and having a Bard-off over Troilus and Cressida, and then sets about using all that pointless albeit hyper-intelligent chatter ("Does gossip count as thought?") to expose the impotency of the currency culture, the inadequacy and secret unhappiness of the superrich, for whom grand twelfth-floor views are just as easily prisons as prizes.

Case in point, Marian (Katie Honaker), a hideously offensive social dominatrix, putting others down for the sheer sport of it: as her bitter husband David (David Calvitto) puts it, "Marian's imagination is a bit fertile these days -- from the long period of money raining down on her." She's the sort of person who apologizes for using the word "retard" only because she can use "mongoloid" instead, or wittily coin a new one, like "neo-cretinism." She's an unfettered id, and because Parks is operating a notch away from absurdism, she's able to get away with murder, hitting shock value lines like "Steer clear of menorahs, though -- you never know when someone's going to come along and wipe out the Jews, destroying your resale market" far better (and more originally) than anything LaBute could think of.

It's no surprise, then, that David does at last turn to murder: "At what point in this world of ours, riddled with its pestilence and famine, its fly-covered oprhans and melting ice-caps -- at some point in this God-abandoned vat of suffering and cruelty the self-satisfaction of the Western World becomes a capital crime!" John Clancy is ready and willing to take the leap with Parks: he coats the entire cast (or what remains of it) in blood, and then proceeds to build and build from there, along with the help of the indefatiguable Calvitto, who chews through lines with such savage enjoyment that we'd be happy just to have the scraps of a good play.

Instead, we get a full serving of meat, though to be fair to the one-dimensional characters, most of it is fat. Delicious, chewy, absolutely unhealthy fat, and it's a credit to the entire cast that the arteries of the show never get clogged down any of that. It's hard to mock the shallowness of a culture without getting absorbed by it, but Parks stacks his deck with the always-trump power of original one-liners: "I'll take the First Folio over the Bible any day -- Shakespeare's jokes are intentional." Furthermore, by establishing the similarity of all five characters (Leslie Farrell, Paul Urcioli, and Eva van Dok round things out) in the jocular appetizer to this play, he's able to dole out a lot of "rich" observations about this social strata, from faith to law to culture to politics.

If you enjoy theme-park rides and uncontrollable laughter, you'd better RSVP now.

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