Elizabeth Norment and Jed Orlemann in Fate's Imagination(© Monique Carboni)
Elizabeth Norment and Jed Orlemann in Fate's Imagination
(© Monique Carboni)
In Randall David Cook's new play Fate's Imagination, being presented by Gotham Stage Company at The Players Theatre, a flaky, middle-aged woman named Lilah (Elizabeth Norment) picks up a twentysomething guy named Brock (Jed Orlemann) on a New York City sidewalk and brings him home for sex. It turns out that the kid's mother, Susan (Donna Mitchell), is a rising-star senator from New York and a likely Presidential candidate. (Any similarity to Hilary Clinton is completely intentional.)

Would a senator's single, over-21 son becoming consensually involved with an unmarried, older woman be sufficient fodder for a political scandal, even in these knee-jerk conservative times? Probably not. But we eventually learn that there is more the story -- too much more, in fact.

Though Fate's Imagination has a running time of just 90 minutes, it almost seems like three plays in one. The first is the story of Lilah and Brock's relationship; the second is a political drama about Brock's blogging against the Iraq war and Susan's waffling over her support for the invasion; and the third explores the perceived need for a gay person to keep his/her sexual orientation private if he/she wants to assume a position of power. (An explanation of how that last subject is worked into the mix would have to include a revelation one of the play's most significant -- and most preposterous -- plot points.)

To be sure, Cook's script contains lots of witty, quotable dialogue. For example, when Brock notes that "There's been an outbreak of syphillis on the Upper East Side," his mother responds, "One more reason not to live there." And when Lilah and Susan finally confront each other late in the play, the former says to the latter, "Thank God you're not in AA or some 12-step program. I have a difficult time trusting people who don't drink."

Unfortunately, all of this is balanced by a fair amount of stilted, pretentious blather, exemplified by Susan's pronouncement that "No one ever reached the stars with feet firmly planted on the ground" and the playwright's repeated references to the story of Odysseus and Penelope. Moreover, the play's various themes and subplots don't fit together to form a satisfying whole. In general, the lighter, humorous sections of the script are much better written than the more heavily dramatic passages.

Far more consistently excellent than the writing is the acting. Norment does what she can to make the rather weird and scary Lilah sympathetic, while Mitchell is convincingly Presidential as Susan. Orlemann adopts a charmingly quirky persona for the role of Brock -- and he certainly has the body for the well-written, sexy, semi-nude scene towards the beginning of the play -- and the full-frontal nude moment at the very end.

The production values are also first-class, thanks to the work of Robin Vest (scenic design), Lucas Benjamin Krech (lighting), Robert Kaplowitz (sound design/original compositions), Erin Elizabeth Murphy (costumes), and luckydave (projection design). In one of the most arresting special effects I've ever seen on stage, the actors' scrolling lines of dialogue are visible through the picture frames in Lilah's apartment at key points in the play. There's also a neat lighting/sound effect whenever Susan is beset by a phalanx of photographers.

Fate's Imagination has its writing flaws, but the author couldn't ask for a better presentation.