Americana Absurdum has been a hit off-Broadway and at the Edinburgh fringe so it was only a question of time before it hit London.
The evening consists of two plays: Vomit and Roses and Wolverine Dream. The former is a take on the American dysfunctional family that provides the mainstay of much American offbeat drama; the second concerns itself with the aftermath of a plane crash and the legal battles.
Of the two plays, the former is the more accomplished - but there's little competition. Wolverine Dream is the sort of play put together by fresher students, a conglomeration of absurd images and lawyer jokes (the Irish lawyer is called Peat O'Mayo, which gives some idea of the quality of the humour), all mixed up with a smattering of literary allusions. Brian Parks doesn't miss any opportunity to show off: so if you don't know your Wallace Stevens from your Hart Crane, then it's bye-bye blackbird, bud.
Vomit and Roses has a bit more substance to it but this tale of everyday life in a funeral home and the girl who can't get a prom date contains nothing particularly new - although it does contain an evening's worth of rather contrived, similes.
The one thing that the evening does have going for it is the cast. They throw themselves into the plays with gusto and drag every nuance (and subtlety isn't Parks's strongest suit) out of the text. It's a bravura ensemble performance, with a particularly strong performance from David Calvitto as the harassed funeral director in the first play and the poetry-loving businessman in the second. The evening is kept going by John Clancy's frenetic direction, making the most of the actors' energy.
I'm sure this double bill would be a great hit among English majors, (although I would imagine that the appearance of William Calley as a character in the first play would be baffling - does anyone under 45 remember who is?) there's so much opportunity to show off their learning. At the end of Vomit and Roses, Perth, the son, leaves the funeral parlour to go to Princeton, speaking wistfully of how much money he's going to make. We know it's intended as satire but deep down, we feel that Parks would like to be there as well, sharing literary jokes with fellow Ivy Leaguers and gently mocking the American dream while secretly yearning for it.
For all the efforts of a talented cast, this is an evening where the satire is only skin-deep. The American way of life has been thoroughly dissected by countless TV shows and independent movies. Itís a case of cleverness for the sake of it, where the exuberance of the language can't quite mask the hollowness of the content.
- Maxwell Cooter