It’s not billed as a musical, but Brian Parks’s new dream play, The Golfer, mixes funny songs, sort of mini–Gilbert & Sullivan patter numbers, into its pun-filled, Arte Povera staging at the Brick. The 75-minute comedy includes a chorus of puppets called the Gonads of the Castrati — about which the hapless hero, a young office drone named Flynn, declares, “These guys are nuts!” When a bolt of lightning scrambles his brain, anything can happen, and practically everything does.
The lonely Flynn (an effective Broderick Ballantyne) attracts whiners wherever he turns, and gets no satisfaction, but he plays hooky from his office one afternoon a week to go golfing. On one such outing, he’s struck by that pesky lightning bolt on the first tee. A creepy sound mix, punctuated by explosions, tumbles him into bizarre encounters with denizens of a mysterious underworld, the space-time continuum gone awry. His plaid golf duds singed and sooty, he confronts Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, a bored priest, and elements of trigonometry — perhaps figures that troubled his unconscious as a boy. The iconic paperback edition of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, tossed around the stage at key junctures, lends credence to this interpretation.
Flynn encounters the emperor Charlemagne, a fish who quotes Dickens, a trio of toffs with opera glasses and martinis, and a version of his mother spouting perverse bromides. The play’s style may be quick-cut sketch comedy, but its humanistic through-line visits a millennium of history, religion, literature, and sports commentary. Has he died and gone to Hades? Vanished into an obscure novel? Been targeted by an angry god?
The Brick’s deep, narrow playing space is curtained off into a trapezoid, behind which ten actors playing 66 roles (and also serving as stagehands) change their clothes, store their props, and wield a range of accoutrements designed by director Ian W. Hill, a mountain of a man with a deep, syrupy voice who also found himself, at the matinee I attended, onstage and on book, replacing a sick performer. Anna Stefanic composed the music and filled a number of small roles.
Parks, a former Voice editor who has been mounting his absurd theatricals for the past twenty years, is a very funny writer. The fever dream of a liberal-arts major, The Golfer has it in for everyone from early Christians to obsessed sports fans, from fairytale characters to the Irish, from the legal system to armed rednecks who, over a game of gin rummy, discourse in Latin. Halfway through his disconcerting journey, Flynn, accused of murdering the Wife of Bath and roughed up by arrogant cops, spends rather a long time in darkness, only to confront a beautiful saint who identifies herself as “Our Lady of Atmospheric Lighting.” She resists his attempt to make a pass.
The Golfer might be a sly commentary on the impending end-times. Or a demonstration of how the human brain short-circuits when its owner spends too much time in front of a TV or computer screen. Or, like the singing gonads in its early moments, it could just be nuts. I won’t spoil the fun by giving away the ending, but only say that, especially for those overeducated, buttoned-up folks who languish in cubicles, it’s a much-needed antidote.
By Brian Parks
The Brick Theater
579 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn