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A CurtainUp Review
Oliver (Michael Zegen) enters carrying a bag of groceries and wearing a tuxedo. Is this The Odd Couple , revisited one more time? Yes, this is an odd couple, but not from the Neil Simon canon. This play is Oliver Parker , currently playing at the Cherry Lane Theater. The writer is Elizabeth Meriwether, a contemporary playwright with a bent toward the absurd and jagged boundaries.
In stageFARM's frenzied world premiere Meriwether explores the need for getting and giving help through two desperate characters on the edge of personal upheaval. Oliver and Jasper are best friends. Oliver, is a skinny, frustrated, high-octane 17-year-old teen with raging hormones. "I'm a sexual suicide bomber", he brags. Jasper is a depressed 60-year-old sickly alcoholic who never leaves the apartment. Says Oliver, "You look like Santa Claus on heroin." While they antagonize each other with snappy dialogue full of dry humor, they are connected by a secret from the past and totally dependent on each other. Clues are scattered throughout the play but whether Oliver and Jasper are already lost rests with the viewer.
As the play opens, Oliver is back after two weeks on Spring Break. He says he was looking at colleges. Missing him and blaming him for leaving, Jasper has fallen into an even deeper depression and spends his days watching Lifetime Original Television. As he explains it, "Like it knows what I want to watch — like it's broadcasting from inside my brain, and I can't help it.". This has Oliver snap back with "You know you watch Lifetime? Because I pay your cable bill".
Oliver comes from a wealthy and influential family that ignores him. He pays for the apartment and everything else Jasper needs and shows concern about Jasper's recent cough spasms. It seems Jasper has been part of Oliver's life since the boy was ten. Neither parent nor lover, he provides what Oliver needs in care and devotion, bizarre as it is. In turn, Jasper needs Oliver's forgiveness and financial aid. Just as Oliver brought groceries, Jasper bought the boy a self-help book, Just Breathe-How to Survive a History of Abuse . Oliver, not surprisingly, refuses to read it and sticks chewing gum on the pages.
Director Evan Cabnet keeps the frenetic banter fast, furious and funny. Larroquette ( Night Court ) stands out as the large, lost Jasper and Zegen ( Rescue Me ) aptly portrays the caffeinated adolescent. The play's pace is interrupted by JohAnna Day as Willa Cross, a self-medicating Senator who is mourning her daughter's murder. With her is her ambitious aide, Agnes (Monica Raymund). Day and Raymund are both convincing actors and while their scenes add to the slight, quirky plot, they are overwritten and eventually sluggish.
Oliver Parker is 90 minutes of talk, little emotion, and some sexual attempts that are ridiculously conceived, yet Meriwether, whose other plays include, The Mistakes Madeline Made is known for nonchalance with her use of rationale and deft with her black and blithe views and sounds of society. One wacky touch here is Jasper's "dead cockroach" to calm down Oliver's over-the-top moments.
Despite its shortcomings in plot and relatively few compelling moments, on this evening I attended Oliver Parker sparked abundant laughter from Meredith fans. The stageFARM company is to be commended for its continued dedication to bringing to theater relevant new works by promising playwrights.