Some questions are best left unanswered, and David Rabe’s new metaphysical farce, Cosmologies, leaves you thinking that the meaning of life might be one of them. Over the course of two and half hours that feel like two and a half years, Rabe pontificates himself into a long series of slip knots whose tangles can’t hold anything for long.
The play opens in a Chicago hotel room, where a runaway Wisconsin teen named Eric (Kenny Mihlfried) is hoping to begin a grand adventure—or as he calls it, a “terrestrial ruckus.” (If that phrasing seems a little extra for extra’s sake, it’s about as down-to-earth as the play gets.) Soon enough, Eric has accidentally summoned a pimp, Richard (James D. Farruggio), brought a sex worker named Teddy (Darci Nalepa) to orgasm just by kissing her, and gotten stabbed in the gut for his troubles.
That’s when the play really begins. Eric is banished to a twilight purgatory in which Richard and Teddy are now playing house as husband and wife. Eric crashes on their couch, alternately their son and a unwelcome rival for Teddy’s affections. As Rabe drinks deep from the well of Flann O’Brien–style absurdism, Eric befriends an escaped convict (John Kelly Connolly), assembles a telescope to search the heavens, runs afoul of two very odd policemen (Martel Manning and Hannah Toriumi) and encounters a priest (Gregory Fenner) who may also be his friend Milt from the play’s opening scene.
Cosmologies is too gaseous to succeed as either commentary or farce, and director Michael Patrick Thornton does Rabe few favors; the script’s dorm-room philosophizing is matched by this production’s stoned, slacker-ish staging and a cobbled-together set that might as well be a pile of furniture dumped curbside. It’s doubtful that even the most rigorous pacing could whip this formless play into shape, but shaving even a few minutes from the running time would help.
Although the actors pull out moments of genuine humor (particularly Faruggio and Nalepa, who do Sisyphean yeoman’s work), no one in the cast can make this damp squib pop. Rabe’s plays have often had elements of the symbolic and surreal, but Cosmologies seems less like retro absurdism than like good old-fashioned gobbledygook.
The Gift Theatre. Written by David Rabe. Directed by Michael Patrick Thornton. With John Kelly Connolly, James D. Farruggio, Gregory Fenner, Martel Manning, Kenny Mihlfried, Darci Nalepa and Hannah Toriumi. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.