Oliver Parker! Finds the Fun Side of Child Abuse
Elizabeth Meriwether must consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders the way other playwrights refer to a thesaurus or rhyming dictionary. Though she has authored only four full-length plays, her characters abound with distress: anxiety, clinical depression, suicidal ideation, possible schizophrenia (how else to explain the appearance of Ibsen-spouting robots in one's living room?). She specializes in mordantly funny plays about acute psychological crises, and her latest, Oliver Parker!, produced by the stageFARM, easily fits that diagnostic criteria.
The title character, a 17-year-old boy (Michael Zegen), was sexually abused a decade ago and now manifests more than a little post-traumatic stress. He has developed a strangely co-dependent relationship with his "diddler," Jasper (John Larroquette), his family's driver. In Jasper's superbly disgusting apartment, the two meet often for blueberry pie and mutual torment. The addition of a grieving U.S. Senator with a pill habit (Johanna Day) and her obsessive-compulsive aide (Monica Raymund) generates enough malign juju to keep New York's analysts employed for decades.
Director Evan Cabnet pitches the whole affair too hysterically, but the actors delight in their overwrought portrayals. Larroquette clearly enjoys this unglamorous turn (though surely even he must feel repulsion for the food- and fluid-stained costumes he sports). Cabnet does manage one superb visual joke—it involves briefs and a Skeletor mask—but the bulk of the comedy rests with Meriwether, who can somehow wring laughs from the bleakest situations, while always maintaining compassion toward her characters. Let's give her a hand. And maybe some Zoloft.
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