Sometimes when reviewing a play, the press packet will include a copy of the script. I always like this, since it means I can just nap through the production and read thing later. The press kit for Goner, sadly, did not include a script, but my dismay was not for the usual reason. If I'd been given a copy, I would have been saved a serious hand cramp from trying to scrawl all my favorite lines from Brian Parks new play in my notes in the dark.
Playwright Parks has had successes with a number of previous plays, most notably Americana Absurdum, which won top awards at both the New York and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. Goner was also a hit at the Scottish play fest back in 2002, and is finally getting a New York debut at the Kraine Theatre.
Goner takes place in a hospital where US President Waterford Novi (Bill Coelius) lies with an assassins' bullet in his brain. This dire situation seems to be only a minor distraction to most of the hospital staff, who have their own bizarre fixations to attend to. Master surgeon and alleged glockenspiel virtuoso Dr. Ecorse Southgate (a prickly Matt Oberg) is more interested in trying to market his Chemotherapy Barbie, new kid Hoyt Schermerhorn (Jody Lambert) is busy pining for spunky fecal lab tech Wixom Wyandotte (Jona Tuck), who herself is obsessed with making a documentary on the mysterious "Black People", and her father, Dr. Warren Wyandotte (David Calvitto) is distracted by… well, nearly everything.
The plot is mostly a framework for gags that bounce from smart satirical observations to Three Stooges wackiness, and the jokes fly so fast and furious that you can't tell the puns from the profundities. While a presidential character is included, the author, director, and actor wisely steer clear of direct Bush parody, though there are a few amusing pointed jabs ("Capital punishment? It was good enough for Jesus!"). Pokes are liberally taken at the medical establishment; When the Commander-in-Chief is brought in, Dr. Wyandotte asks "Is he insured?"
The nothing-sacred script is in the hands a cast of supremely funny actors, not a weak link among them.As the charismatic but brain-dead (literally and figuratively) President, Bill Coelius is perfect, particularly in the scenes where he waxes poetic about This Great Land of Ours wich the rest of the cast humming patriotically behind him: "This country makes the best pornography in the world, and I'm its President." Calvittos' wild eyed physician is also inspired, bringing hilarious earnestness to even the most absurd lines. Patrick Fredrick and Leslie Farrell are excellent playing multiple roles, most notably a pair of astoundingly paranoid government agents, fiercely guarding even the Presidential Poop.
John Clancy has done a fantastic job directing this quick-cut blaze of scenes. All his actors talk loud and fast, as if adrenaline has been jacked directly into their funny bones. If you're looking for an hour of irreverence that will leave you somewhat befuddled but gasping from laughter, check in to Goner.
Photo: Matt Oberg, David Calvitto, and Jody Lambert