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Ana Reeder and Larry Pine in Carol Mulroney
(Photo © T. Charles Erickson)
If your adult daughter were depressed, would you (a) recommend therapy and/or medication, or (b) plot to replace her husband, who works for you, with a candidate of your own choosing from the talent pool at the office? That cosmetics mogul Hutton Mulroney (Larry Pine) opts for the latter strategy would seem to augur a comedic approach on the part of playwright Stephen Belber. However, in Carol Mulroney, Belber appears to have broader ambitions; he evidently wants to probe the human condition, the meaning (or lack thereof) of life, our purpose here on earth. While the play boasts some funny lines and conceits, they're strewn throughout this generally amorphous exercise like raisins in the dough of an unbaked challah.

The piece is really an amalgam of character sketches. Five people are set off like spinning tops on a city rooftop to see who'll carom into whom, and to what effect. At the center of it all is Carol Mulroney (Ana Reeder), who finds in this bleak aerie an improbable oasis. (Rachel Hauck's set, a collection of tiered platforms topped by a big chimney, is austere in the extreme, even against a backdrop of corny icicle lights representing the starry night sky.) In Reeder's interpretation, Carol trundles about like a toddler on Quaaludes; words and ideas don't come easily to her. We may have no idea what the rest of her world is like -- allusions are later made to her being a painter -- but we immediately know what's up when begins musing about her attraction to the edge: "It's not uncommon for human beings to have the urge to fall away."

Sure enough, within a few scenes, her father gets the news (via cell phone) that Carol has either stumbled or leaped off the roof. He reacts to this development as if hearing about a minor downtick in his company's stock. Grief? Shock? There's none of that. The natural human reactions of a bereaved parent are drastically reined in -- whether by Pine, Belber, or director Lisa Peterson. But any sense of Hutton as a realistic character was already countermanded when he began riffing to his protégé/son-in-law-elect Ken Parker (Reuben Jackson) about the cosmic import of the cosmetics biz: "It's the face we put on to face the folly . . . our Apollonian veil spread delicately across the void." Come again? This is a playwright talking, not a businessman -- not even one with a taste for weed.

Jackson performs admirably in an underwritten part. So does Tim Ransom as Carol's husband, Lesley, who is evidently in the grip of some sort of New Agey self-actualization program. In his quest to get Carol back on track, he keeps yammering about the need to "re-essentialize" -- which, in his plan, specifically means growing potatoes and keeping bees. The result may actually be that Carol feels distraught at the imminent loss of her rooftop refuge, but the script and the acting are so affectless, we never know for sure.

Only one character streaks through this ether like a refulgent comet: Carol's painter friend Joan (Johanna Day), an outspoken whirlwind of passions. She's hot for alcohol and raunch but also, inexplicably, for the boring, two-timing Lesley. Joan's free-ranging, imagistic monologues deserve a play that matches their intensity, and Day, channeling the spirit of a brash, trash-talking Audrey Meadows, makes the most of her part. She's a life force and she knows it, bringing much-needed energy to every encounter.

But suicidal people have feelings, too -- usually a surfeit of them. If it's Carol whom Belber professes to care about, he needs to delve deeper. Schematic references to the woman's suicidal mother --- including a recurrent, serially modified childhood scene -- don't suffice to explain her actions. Much as we might wish to empathize with Carol, it's hard to relate to a cipher. Despite its interesting premise, Carol Mulroney is not yet a play.

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