Elizabeth Meriwether mixes sick and sad in her terrific new comedy.
Mon May 17 2010
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
Some of the most powerful family dramas involve people who aren’t even related. Take Elizabeth Meriwether’s intensely sad and sick new comedy, Oliver Parker!, in which the titular rich teen (Zegen) pals around with dying alcoholic Jasper (Larroquette) when not trying to seduce grieving, middle-aged U.S. senator Willa (Day). Although none of the principals are consanguineous, their tangled relations imply those of mother, father and son. Oliver seems to be working through childhood sexual trauma with help from these parental surrogates, to whom he is both attracted and repelled.
Or perhaps that’s critical over-reading. The prodigiously talented Meriwether (now dividing her time between Off Broadway and Hollywood) seems to be having too much fun tweaking taboos and riffing on jokes to fuss over tidy plot schematics. That’s not a criticism: Meriwether’s forte is sketching emotionally shambolic characters who are both charming and deeply deranged, giving her one of the most dynamic and limber playwriting voices around (matched only by Annie Baker and Young Jean Lee for freshness and verve). When Oliver tries to seduce the senator’s pretty aide (Raymond) by revealing that he was “diddled with” as a child, you are both disgusted by his manipulativeness and amused by his brio. Jasper is Oliver’s family’s ex-chauffeur and, we learn, the diddler. (This fraught male relationship has shades of both Rushmore and Henry IV.) The remorseful Jasper sits in a trashed apartment (paid for by Oliver), guzzling vodka and begging his victim to seek therapy. Meriwether knits a few plot strands together, but mostly this is a character study with deep wells of grief bubbling beneath the daffy badinage and sight gags.
Evan Cabnet’s giddy but driving stageFARM production couldn’t be more optimal. Larroquette is a born physical comedian with a velvety, musical baritone. Yes, we already knew that from Night Court reruns, but I am starting a petition to have Larroquette do Mamet, Kaufman and maybe a Restoration farce each season. Zegen expertly dispenses acid sass, and Day offers some of the most emotionally naked work I’ve seen from her. Oliver Parker! is nasty, weird and uncomfortably funny, but only a bold talent like Meriwether could make it feel like coming home.
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