John Guare’s ‘Are You There, McPhee?’ Puzzles Audience at McCarter
Monday, May 21, 2012 • 6:41am
PRINCETON, NJ – The long, convoluted comedy “Are You There, McPhee?” has a few hilarious moments but, alas, not enough to keep this almost three-hour production chugging along.
Directed by Sam Buntrock, the play follows Mundie, played by Paul Gross, as he attempts to finish a novel, get a script to Hollywood and call on friends to help him out.
The play takes place on Nantucket, both now and in 1975. Mundie meets an assortment of characters, including two children who are left on their own as their parents decamp for fun and games elsewhere. Still, what’s meant to be funny really isn’t, as this black comedy turns on suicide, deserted children, and more. McPhee finds himself along with the two, with no money, no food, no electricity and other complications. Mixing Retalin with wine doesn’t seem like such a great idea.
There’s much play on words, with Wendy (Molly Camp) and Peter (Gideon Banner) as the temporary caretakers for the children. Then there are references to Harold Pinter, Walt Disney, “Jaws” and an assortment of other well known names, movies or places. There’s even a nod to Maurice Sendak when a giant hand reaches through the wings to grab one of the characters. It’s hard to see just where Guare is going with all this chaos.
“Are You There, McPhee?” may be a work in progress, but so far it hasn’t progressed in a clear, forthright manner. Part of the confusion is the past/present shift. Although seen as a memory play, a coming of age moment in time, the point that Guare is apparently trying to make is that memory can exaggerate and distort reality. And that you actually come of age (35 years old?) later than you think.
It’s been called a horror story and a ghost story. There are a number of special effects, such as giant hands reaching out from the side of the stage to grasp the children. But, just when you think the whole thing is winding down, another scene descends.
David Farley’s set is an intricate arrangement of a living room that moves forward and back, at times replaced by a brick wall where Mundie meets with friends and looks back on 1975. Costumes, also by Farley, are outlandish for some characters, such as the sexy aunt who wants nothing to do with her niece and nephew.
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