nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 6, 2006
If the Marx Brothers were alive today, I think they might very well be Brian Parks.
Witness this exchange from his play Goner, between Dr. Warren Wyandotte, chief of surgery at Bruno Hauptmann General Hospital, and two FBI Agents:
HAZEL: I see here you attended the Erskine Medical School and Waffle House.
WARREN: Eight years.
HAZEL: Specializing in “postmodern medicine.”
WARREN: It’s a school of thought that says the patient doesn’t actually exist.
MELVIN: Do you still believe this?
WARREN: No—it totally undermines your ability to bill.
Goner—workshopped at The Present Company six years ago; a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2002—makes its long-awaited official New York debut at the Kraine Theatre, helmed by John Clancy; it is an hour plus a few minutes of raucous, hilarious, lunatic subversion. It's as fast as a speeding bullet and approximately as subtle, spewing explosions of comic debris as it whirls past us, relentlessly and fearlessly, tearing down any edifice with even a remote pretense to authority or seriousness that might lay in its path. Indeed, if Goner has a flaw, it's that it never stops to catch its breath: it's the Marx Brothers minus Lillian Roth or Kitty Carlisle singing some inane tune or other to provide a break from the anarchic shenanigans: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo at full blast, with no Zeppo for leavening.
It is, though, very very funny. The reason that FBI agents are interviewing Dr. Wyandotte is because the President is in this hospital; he was sho at an event at the Smithsonian Institute, and Wyandotte and his team of crackerjack nutcases—er, surgeons—literally have their Chief Executive's life in their hands. Wyandotte's trusted team includes Ecorse Southgate, a doctor who is more interested in marketing his new toy idea ("Chemotherapy Barbie") than actually performing operations; and Hoyt Schermerhorn, the new guy, a heroic fellow who is in love with himself and Wyandotte's daughter, in that order (and whose name, for the non-New Yorkers reading this, is a bad in-joke, consisting of the names of two major thoroughfares in Brooklyn).
Wyandotte's daughter, meanwhile, is working downstairs in the hospital lab, examining stool samples and dreaming of a career as a filmmaker (her big idea is to make a documentary about black people who, she has just learned, were once enslaved in this country and are apparently in need of her help).
Once the President arrives, agents Hazel Park and Melvin Dale of the FBI arrive also, in search of clues to the vast conspiracy that they are certain exists and of which the President's assassin must surely be a part.
Parks's take-no-prisoners style makes fools out of everybody in this cockeyed universe. He's been careful to identify his President as one Waterford Novi, but some of the stuff that comes out of this character's mouth may sound eerily familiar, such as these soundbites on the environment ("Lots of it left") and on air pollution ("We all like breathing, but that’s no excuse for extremism"). Goner is not particularly a political play, but the times we live in sometimes make it seem like one: when we learn that Agent Dale can't tie his shoes, it's a joke on establishment ineptitude; but when he says "I love a good wiretap. You can almost smell the Constitution burning,"—well, that does feel a little bit specific, doesn't it?
Clancy's production still feels a little raw in places, with some of the actors not quite as simpatico with the breackneck rhythm of the piece as others; this likely will improve over time. But David Calvitto, as Dr. Wyandotte, gives a performance of sheer comic brilliance, completely in tune with Parks's wacked-out world and presented with letter-perfect, split-second timing. Jody Lambert is a hoot as Schermerhorn, and Bill Coelius anchors the show as much as appropriate as President Novi, who is also the play's narrator.
Almost vaudevillian in its loose, vignette-heavy form (there are dozens of scenes, some lasting just a few seconds), Goner is as much shameless paean to/filch of American show biz (HOYT: Suture / WARREN: Suture self) as it is a zonked-out postmodern deconstruction of same. Whatever it is, it's fun to have it at last on the boards in NYC. There's another Parks/Clancy collaboration promised for later this season (Americana Absurdum), and hopefully some new stuff after that: stuff, definitely, to look forward to.