My sympathies to this cast– they have worked themselves to a frazzle trying to wring sense out of senselessness– but this new work at the NEW REP THEATRE proves resistant. RANCHO MIRAGE may be the most preposterous thing I have ever seen. Described as a “dark comedy” by Stephen Dietz, RANCHO MIRAGE is a boneheaded rip-off of “God Of Carnage” featuring three couples (presumably friends, albeit no perceivable basis for their longtime friendship is ever established) go berserk.
Diane and Nick (the beautiful, too tightly wound Tamara Hickey and subtly credible Lewis D. Wheeler) invite Pam and Charlie (the excellent Cate Damon and John Kooi) and Louise and Trevor (the overly broad Abigail Killeen and the easy and likeable Robert Pemberton) to a dinner party in their picture perfect, vaguely western, American gated community. An attractive and cleverly generic set suggesting their ersatz life– is just right. Director Robert Walsh has his hands full juggling farce and pathos.
Almost immediately, things get out of hand: secrets get spilled, clothes and friendships get torn. Each couple is more flawed, craven, unstable, and secretive than the next. It’s not that these characters are dysfunctional; it’s that they don’t make sense as living, breathing human beings. They are sublimely incredible, less than caricatures even; caricatures at least add up in a one-dimensional way. As someone who has spent considerable time studying the deep terrain of fictional characters as well as ruminating on her own psyche, I would say this is incoherence run amok, masquerading as a tragi-comedy about disconnectedness, hidden agendas, the mirage of familiarity, and the illusion of intimacy.
But to convey any of that dramatically we’d need to buy into a coherent surface reality, and that my friends, is what is missing. These characters are merely straw men and women, waiting to be knocked down, mere plot points, scatter-shot from the loose cannon of a playwright’s provocatively misanthropic musings. What happens on that stage is like watching a stampede of jack rabbits, headed nowhere at once, and kicking up a lot of dust in their frenzied escape. There are some cheap laughs. There is at least one story that Nick would just not have told in these circumstances, and other courses of action that are simply not justified by the characters’ stated motivations, namely where and why Louise and Trevor went on vacation.
Act I just seemed crazy. In Act II–all hell breaks loose, as we whipsaw from one absurd revelation to another. It’s a potboiler of random revelations masquerading as existential dilemma and adding up to chaos. Marriage, divorce, sex, friendship, kids, Alzheimers, miscarriage, foreign adoption, bankruptcy, adultery, religion, embezzlement–all culminate in one baby sitter and a pizza.
The following tells all. In Act I we learn that Trevor has suddenly taken up sewing. His wife Louise has no idea why. In the middle of Act II, some cooked-up action in the offstage kitchen results in Nick and Charlie emerging with their clothes ripped– occasioning Trevor to get out his needle and thread so he can repair the torn clothing. The guys, half dressed, finally ask him, “Hey, what’s with the sewing?” He says something very like, “I love the idea of thread… that there is something in this world which can stitch things back together.”
YIKES. A naked metaphor bandied about onstage before our very eyes. The unabashed contrivance of the situation, and the artificiality of those words, in that character’s mouth, in this totally phony world is what’s wrong with this play, in a nutshell. Somebody get me a nutshell– before I go nuts. RANCHO MIRAGE at the New Rep Theatre through November 3rd.