John Guare’s 1977 Landscape of the Body, now getting its third Off-Broadway production, is a play built to trouble the mind. Like the restless ghost of its heroine’s sister, it keeps coming back, brimming with brassy vitality and a secret knowledge that nobody else can wholly share. A wonder tale full of seemingly total improbabilities, its story, if stared at too long, either crumbles into meaninglessness or makes complete sense. A Down East woman comes to New York to bring her sister home and ends up taking over said
sister’s shady Manhattan life. After a weekend Down South with a man she knew years earlier, she returns to find her teenage son decapitated and herself accused of his murder. Everyone who could substantiate her story is either dead or insane. Naturally the homicide detective in charge fixates on her.
Believing Guare’s urban legend isn’t half as hard as shaping its wacky, discursive elements into a coherent evening. Michael Greif’s production struggles, sometimes visibly, to make its recalcitrant parts coalesce. Pushing too hard to give the evening a stylized edge, he lures his leads, Lili Taylor as the gal from Maine and Paul Sparks as the obsessed cop, into accent-conscious overdoing, leaving Sherie Rene Scott, as the brassy sister’s ghost, free to out-demure the usually demure Taylor, and Jonathan Fried, as the deranged Southern suitor, free to steal the show out from under everybody else.