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A CurtainUp Review
Oliver Parker

I love characters that are on the edge of something. I end up always writing about people trying to connect and failing miserably, usually in a funny way. I'm pushed to these moments in people's lives where real life does become absurd, and I think those are usually moments of grief or moments of extreme boredom or extreme anger. Or just trying to have sex with somebody. — Elizabeth Meriwether in N.Y.Times, May 9 , 2010
Oliver Parker
Michael Zegen (Oliver Parker) and Johanna Day (Willa Cross)
First impressions can tell a lot. Even before the play begins, look at the chaotic set and you can't deny that this is the living room of a very troubled person with its unkempt with food containers, broken glass and shards of pottery. On one side you catch a glimpse of a kitchen that you probably would not want to enter. Slumped in a chair, half-wearing a maroon jacket is Jasper (John Larroquette), staring at a muted television and swigging from a bottle of vodka.

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.

Oliver Parker by Elizabeth Meriweather
Directed by Evan Cabnet

Cast: Johanna Day, John Larroquette , Monica Raymund, and Michael Zegen.
Set Design: Lauren Helpern
Lighting Design: Ben Stanton
Costume Design: Jessica Shay
Sound Design: Zane Birdwell
Props: Faye Armon
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
stageFarm at Cherry Lane Theatre: 38 Commerce St. (212) 239-6200.
Tickets: $37.50 www.thestagefarm.org. May be inappropriate for 16 and under.
Performances: Tuesday - Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 5pm.
Previews: 5/09/10. Opening 5/17/10. Closing 6/06/10.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 5/14/10
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