Jason Butler Harner, Sarah Paulson and Bobby Cannavale
in The Gingerbread House
(© Carol Rosegg)
Jason Butler Harner, Sarah Paulson and Bobby Cannavale
in The Gingerbread House
(© Carol Rosegg)
With increasing frequency, pop culture has asked what would it be like for superheroes to live in the real world. How do they cope with the ravages of time and conscience? Mark Schult'z striking new play, The Gingerbread House, being presented by stageFARM at Rattlestick Theatre, takes a similar tack with American absurdism, forcing not just its audience, but its characters to deal with the implications of their actions. The result, while uneven, is a provocative tour through the compromising consequences of pursuing the American dream.

The evening grabs attention early with a simple proposal: "Honey, I think we should sell the kids." As Brian (Jason Butler Harner) explains to Stacey (Sarah Paulson), they were happier and better looking before children, while the kids must suffer with parents who "don't love them enough, if at all." Selling them, therefore, would really be a win-win. Plus, Brian knows a guy named Marco (Bobby Cannavale) who can get things done -- like help you get into "the club," nab a promotion, finance your new apartment. The first step is just letting him sell your kids to Albania.

Brian and Stacey go ahead with the transaction, and by observable measures, their standard of living improves. Whether their lives are better is debatable. He finds after the first deal it's easy to begin selling off parts of yourself; she's haunted by projected apparitions, unsure if the kids are really being cared for by a rich, childless couple or pedaled in the flesh trade.

Schultz's script packs danger into the comedy, providing the updated gloss on Albee that even Albee himself has been unable to pull off in recent works. Under the insightful direction of Evan Cabnet (who replaced stageFARM's artistic director Alex Kilgore during previews), the action darts with appropriate intensity. The structure, though, lets the tension dissipate, visiting Stacey's workplace in three unnecessary scenes that underline the evening's ideas and dilute their punch. True, excising those scenes would cut out Jackie Hoffman (largely wasted in an extended cameo as Stacey's client) and Ben Rappaport (terrific as a younger coworker with a crush).

Still, there would be plenty of terrific acting to go around. Paulson's Stacey is a pretty piece of plastic -- hard to the touch, but far more pliant than she looks. Cannavale drips devilish charm, yet still manages to creep up on you. But it's Harner, who delivers the evening's tour-de-force once again showing he can steal scenes from starrier cohorts. His avaricious American dad is both the clueless hamster and the hungry snake who devoured him.

And even if Schultz seems to have crammed in too many related ideas into this House -- with too much to say about each -- there are worse problems for a play to have.