Gravity Always Wins, which is playing at the HERE Arts Center through August 3, is one of those comedies where you spend almost the entire time laughing and then wonder afterwards whether you should have. It's certainly not that Marc Spitz's new play isn't legitimately funny - it is, in spades - it's that the social commentary underlying the jokes is really nothing to laugh about.
As directed by Jonathan Lisecki, Gravity Always Wins effectively mines comedy from, among other sources, Michael Jackson, marital therapy, abortion, gay pornography, child molestation, and the French. Though no small feat in and of itself, Lisecki and Spitz are more successful still at making it seem like these subjects and others fit together as easily as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
But first, they must set up the pieces. At the start of the show, Mort (Philip Littell) is already separated from his wife, trying to raise his two kids alone. One, Scotty (Lisecki himself), is an aspiring moviemaker distressed by the dialogue in gay porn films, and who wants to help a favorite star (Andersen Gabrych) go legit. The other, Clay (Brian Reilly), has gotten his French girlfriend Emma (Alexandra Oliver) pregnant, though neither is sure they're ready to be parents. Mort, meanwhile, has been taking to wearing leather jackets with zippers, single sequined gloves, and spending too much time with five-year-old Becky (Valerie Clift) who lives nearby.
The picture that gradually forms of the Williams clan is one of a group of people subconsciously influenced by pop culture and the media to the point that they're almost incapable of dealing with each other. As Mort spends all his time and money trying to look more like Michael Jackson and Emma is determined to remove the "black thing" from inside her, they refuse to listen to any personal, external voices of reason; they've already been programmed otherwise.
And, as is perhaps typical, there are plenty of lessons to be learned and prices to be paid along the way. These are deftly handled by Spitz who, even when dealing with the darkest of subject matter, never loses his grip on the comic hyper-reality of his characters or their situations. Lisecki's direction matches Spitz in spirit if not always in timing - relatively lengthy blackouts and scene changes slow down the action a bit too often; the pacing is never as madcap as the writing.
The same can't be said of the performances. Oliver's Emma is perfect in its combination of overdrawn caricature and cultural bias, while still maintaining something of a fragile soul beneath. Gabrych is hilarious as the dim-witted figment of Scotty's imagination, and the scenes Lisecki and Gabrych share have an odd, comic warmth about them that dulls their somewhat disturbing edge. Clift, as Becky and Mort's wandering wife, gives a strong, underplayed comic performance, while Littell goes all out.
Reilly provides one of the two most important performances, generally the "straight man" role trying to inject some reality into the proceedings and failing miserably. His opposing force is the hilarious Zeke Farrow, playing a number of "real world" characters - a plastic surgeon, an undercover policeman concerned about whether he looks like Richard Grieco or Johnny Depp, and a licentious marriage counselor among them - who anchor the Williams family in a world so unreal, their actions almost seem perfectly understandable.
And though the two actors almost never share the stage together, their struggle is emblematic of the show as a whole, the real and the "real" fighting for control over not only people but perceptions. Audiences attending the show will implicitly understand this: Gravity Always Wins is a play full of wonderful comic surprises, with darker, more serious, and more vital elements underneath, just waiting to be discovered and pondered.
Gravity Always Wins