Are You There, McPhee?
Paul Gross stars in the world premiere of John Guare's overly convoluted if promising new play at the McCarter Theatre.
The work, which is far too convoluted to recount in great detail, focuses on a Guare-like playwright called Edmund "Mundie" Gowery (Paul Gross) telling partygoers a shaggy-dog story about arriving in Nantucket to deal with problems concerning the porn-disseminating occupants of a house he owns.
Before much time goes by after his arrival, Mundie meets a man named McPhee (John Behlmann), who has recently appeared in a community production of Mundie's one hit, an opus that sounds something like Guare's The House of Blue Leaves.
Their charged encounter leads to Mundie's visiting a house inhabited by Peter (Gideon Banner), Wendy (Molly Camp) and two dreadful children constantly being fed Ritalin. Before long, Peter and Wendy (get it, children's story fans?) disappear, and Mundie is stuck minding the Maurice-Sendak-like tykes.
On it goes, as the time-frame alternates between 1975 and the present, and characters like Mundie's sometime girlfriend Alice (Alicia Goranson) and the cottage's actual owner Schuyler (Danny Mastrogiorgio) swirl about while perplexing and frustrating the suddenly house-bound and money-bereft protagonist.
Guare's script, perplexing and frustrating as it can be, has been directed by Sam Buntrock with as much dispatch as he can possibly muster. The members of his cast -- including a Jorge Luis Borges puppet -- respond with aplomb on a David Farley set that has an initially prominent high downstage brick wall, which is raised to reveal first Mundie's stylized home and then the more realistic Peter-and-Wendy-inhabited dwelling.
While the work is far too long for its own good, Guare's signature joy at unfolding the simultaneously amusing and scarifying personal anecdote remains ever-present. More than that, his offbeat sense of what's verbally rib-tickling continues unabated.