Review by Tulis McCall
(18 May 2010)
Jeepers – what a month this has been already for excellent theatre. What did everyone do, wait until the old season was over before they sprung these beauties out of the gate?
Oliver Parker! is, in words of one syllable, the kind of play that reminds you why you leave your home and go sit in a dark room with strangers and hope that your life will be cracked open, that you will leave the theatre changed on a cellular level for the better.
And like the book says, “In the beginning was the word.” Ain’t it the truth. From the moment the lights come up on this fine production we are tossed into a sea of words that, while we know them all, sound new. Elizabeth Meriwether has written a play that answers the question - what would have happened if George Carlin had met Holden Caulfield? Her answer is messy and heartbreaking and thrilling.
Jasper (John Larroquette) is a recluse whose dwelling looks like a biology experiment and whose personal hygiene is questionable. His last cat has just died from lapping up Drano that Jasper couldn’t clean up because he didn’t have a paper towel because he never leaves the apartment because he is a messed up dude. Oliver Parker has just returned from two weeks of college hunting to find Jasper wallowing in his self-despair. Oliver has brought supplies and the two friends engage in a ping pong sort of conversation where the nature of their friendship is displayed but not revealed. Oliver supports Jasper. He pays for the apartment and his food. In return, Jasper is the one who will listen to Oliver any time. Their connection is guilt. Molestation to be precise. But it is still a relationship that, not unlike many others, figures out a way to exist.
Like a chef with a wild set of taste buds, Ms. Meriwether introduces only two more characters. Senator Will Cross (Johanna Day) is on a very loose leash (kind of unbelievable that she would travel anywhere without an aide – but we go with it because Meriwether keeps dropping crumbs to follow). The Senator and Oliver meet at a costume fundraiser, and in a near tryst in Jasper’s apartment they discover something in common. The Senator wants drugs that will help her forget her daughter’s death and that also might end up killing her. Oliver’s father is a doctor with a fabulous supply of samples. Done deal. The final character is that very same absent aide, Agnes (Monica Raymond) who now makes an appearance to tidy up after her boss and put the kibosh on the deal.
In looking over what I just wrote I can see that it all sounds preposterous, which is true. What makes it work is Meriwether’s writing and the fine work by this cast. Larroquette is a master craftsman. He is exacting and electric. There is no wasted effort, no wandering gesture for this Jasper who hit a wall years ago and never stopped to notice. Johanna Day is stunning. She drops like a sinker into Senator Cross’s heart that, since the death of her daughter, is only beating out of habit. Day balances on the tightrope of tragedy and then leaps. There is no net, and she snatches at the pieces of what used to be her life to cushion her landing. As Oliver Parker, Michael Zegan brings a clarity and maturity that is critical to this piece. This teenager is the center of the whirlpool and it is his shoulders on which the others stand. They are capable and strong in a myriad of ways.
The odd bit in this play was the scene with the Senator’s aide. This was the only character that was once removed from the fallout of Oliver’s actions. Because the other scenes are so dense and engaging, this scene seemed almost unnecessary and was not helped by Ms. Raymond’s work, which appeared somewhat stiff and uninspired.
Get thee thither my friends. On the tiny stage of the Cherry Lane Theatre a huge marvel is spinning itself out. Oliver Parker! is a gift for you – so hurry on over and unwrap it. This is what the Cherry Lane does and has been doing for decades. Like other Off Broadway theatres, whose existence is being threatened by real estate greed, the Cherry Lane is one reason why New York is New York. It is an outpost for creation, without which life is not alive.