As Benny (William Jackson Harper) stands at an amusement-park ticket window, he muses on what he wants: “I want to escape from my daily life,” he says. “From the abyss of total meaninglessness that I know lies just beneath my feet at every moment.”
Well, I wanted to escape from Charles L. Mee’s Paradise Park, the final play in the Signature Theatre’s Mee season. Judging from the handful of audience members who walked out during the intermissionless two-hour performance and the critic seated next to me writing “PURGATORY!” in his notes, I wasn’t alone in my sentiments.
Initially, Paradise Park promised well. Though a plotless exploration of people trapped in a low-rent Six Flags, it features excellent actors like Christopher McCann and Veanne Cox, and its structure of numerous short scenes seems to work nicely with the jumpy rhythms of Mee’s prose. But as scene gives way to disconnected scene, and speech to digressive speech, not even the delights of a half-inflated bouncy castle, a fruitcake toss, or scores of stuffed animals can rescue the play from tedium.
Daniel Fish’s direction keeps the action—what little there is—moving and offers a few visual surprises, but he seems undone by the script. The same can be said for the cast, who grow increasingly enervated as the evening wears on. If only Paradise Park offered the sort of attraction that P.T. Barnum used to trumpet. In the midst of various amusements, Barnum’s tents would always feature a handsomely lettered sign reading “This way—Exeunt!”