Sleigh Ride at
the Mitzi E, Newhouse, 150 W. 65th St.
Nantucket Sleigh Ride
an artistic and philosophic argument going on in playwright John Guare’s Nantucket
Sleigh Ride which is splashed all over the Mitzi Newhouse stage, up and
down as well as sideways, and even back and forth in the riotous give and take
of director Jerry Zaks’s ebullient staging. It’s as if Zaks said “You need
this show to fly. Sure, great, the hyper text, the magic realism, the Borges
whatever, but you want a tuchus in every seat, you gotta make it fly and that’s
what we’re going to do.” And since Zaks directed Guare’s Six Degrees of
Separation which is still flying after twenty years, everybody nodded
heads, bobble dolls.
does Nantucket fly? Like crazy. Like hypertext. Like magic realism.
And is the master, Jorge Luis Borges (endearing German Jaramillo) even in the
show? Up to his eyebrows. And do other famous names drop like flies? All over
the place. But first, let us try to get a handle on the proceedings, which
range from unusual, to delightful, to cockeyed, to ferblunget, swooping
and/or trundling, all around Edmund Gowery, (splendidly pungent John Larroquette)
mature, successful hedge funder, who once had the happy fortune – or misfortune
– to write a successful play decades ago. Which has come back to haunt him in
the charming/alarming presences of Poe (funny/scary Adam Chanler-Berat) and
Lilac (scary/charming Grace Rex) the apparently abandonded children of long ago
love Elsie (lovely Clea Alsip) and possibly McPhee (marvelous Will Swenson),
obviously a madman lobsterman.
children beg him to come to Nantucket which once hosted an amateur production
of young playwright Gowery’s only masteriece. Gowery refused their long ago
plea, detested amateur productions. He has never set foot in Nantucket
although he owns a house there which he bought with $20,000 of he play’s
earnings, sight unseen, as an investment upon the advice of his lawyer/agent
Gilbert (ripping Jordan Gelber), who now advises him to go up and see how his
investment is faring while he and his wife Antonia ( twitching Tina Benko) take
a trip to South America. Which is a blow to Gowery because that puts a serious
crimp in the affair he is having with Antonia.
you have been wondering well, what about Borges, he makes his distinguished
presence known and then departs, only to return from time to time, said times
carefully – or carelessly – chosen, wise saws dripping from his smiling lips each
appearance. If you become busy taking note of them, you will be busier taking
note of the transformations amazing scene designer David Gallo has imposed,
possibly leading you astray. Across the entire back wall are thirty doors,
three ranks of ten, surely deeply significant. Well, dear friend, I’m still
working on that. It’s a bit surprising to find the second tier turning into its
own stage for a series of appearances of our sterling company once Gowery
leaves his hedge fund office and goes to Nantucket. Oh, you’ll see lots of
stuff. Including marvelous Emily Rebholz’s costumes and wizard Howard Binkley’s
lighting. Those doors are magic after all.
see Gowery in his Nantucket house for the first time, fending off arrest by
mockingly macho officer Aubry ( hilariously delightful Stacey Sargeant who
also plays Gowery’s voluptuous secretary) It seems to have been the home base
of a child pornography enterprise. Whereupon, he is hurried off to the home of
the children, Poe and Lilac ,whose parents, were members of the cast of the
amateur production, if we don’t look too closely at the time lines.
brings on an ill advised intermission is the consternating way McPhee cooks his
monstrous lobster. He electrocutes him. And blacks out the stage. Giving us in
the audience a breathing space from our Nantucket sleigh ride to attempt to
digest the brilliantly paced goings on director Zaks has constantly on
display. It’s both fortunate and unfortunate. If we realize we are watching a
play constructed in the hypertext/magic realism modes, breaking the flow is a
mistake. If we don’t it’s an unnecessary let down. The pitch and the pace are
not as mad in the second act although the entire company maintains its level of
high audibility with occasional lapses by the star whose vital presence is not
a whit diminished, that’s how good he is. And we are given to wondering if the
entire play and every one in it are part of the Borges Conundrum: has the
writer written the story or has the story written him. Perfect Guare.
I have a good time? I did. Did the play leave me thinking? Indeed, quite
beyond being amused. Guare’s tour de force wrapped in director Zaks’s showbiz
trappings is a feast become fast food.
Sleigh Ride At
the Mitzi E. Newhouse at Lincoln Center. Tickets:$78-$120. 1hr,50 min.
212-239-6200 Thru May 5.