Off Broadway Reviews
Like some kinds of anesthesia, Brian Parks's bitterly satirical Goner doesn't take full effect immediately. It's obvious from the opening seconds that you're in for an hour of inspired insanity at the Kraine Theatre, though you're not sure when the most incapacitating of laughs will first arrive. Luckily, they arrive within minutes, and from then on, you'll feel no pain.
It's a most welcome kind of theatrical numbness, the kind only induced by an inconceivably silly concept stretched to the greatest imaginable extremes and then beyond. Even members of groups Parks aims at most frequently - the medical establishment and the political right - will probably have a hard time resisting the infectious lunacy with which he's saturated his play. And yes, all this starts with an assassination attempt.
After a clueless conservative president is shot at the Smithsonian - leaving the bullet lodged in his brain "like a bad Elton John song" - he's rushed to a Washington hospital for treatment. But his doctors aren't exactly, well, brain surgeons: One behaves as though he cheated his way through medical school; one endlessly pines over a stool sample examiner (who herself wants only to make a documentary about the recently discovered humanity of African-Americans); a third is only interested in peddling his Chemotherapy Barbie (look, she vomits and her hair falls out!). And, yes, there are a couple of conspiracy-seeking Secret Service agents poking around, too.
As breathlessly directed by John Clancy, Goner unfolds - as it must - like a vaudeville variety show set in a hospital. (Picture The Muppet Show's "Veterinarian's Hospital" sketches, with fewer puppets.) Jumbled jokes (frequently punctuated by blackouts in Eric Southern's precise lighting plot), sappy soap-opera style declarations, and pungent political commentary collide time and again to make for a consistently outrageous and unpredictable hour.
True, the show is somewhat simplistic in its structure, and you might wish that Parks would occasionally be willing to sacrifice a laugh or two (or ten) for more pointed satirical barbs. And don't bother caring about whether the president will survive his time in the hospital; Parks hardly does, and that does soften the impact of the underlying story.
Even so, much of the dialogue is flat-out hilarious, insidiously eliciting laughs in increasingly surprising ways, and Clancy's pointed, demented direction only amplifies the inherent comedy. The cast could also scarcely be improved upon: I must admit a particular fondness for Jona Tuck's stringently socially conscious fecal-matter analyzer and Matt Oberg's Barbie-wielding surgeon, but David Calvitto, Bill Coelius, Leslie Farrell, Patrick Frederic, and Jody Lambert are terrific, too, and energetically round out the air-tight comedic ensemble.
The biggest medical miracle here, though, is that no one ever pushes for laughs, and no one ever has to. You'd think an overdose of overzealousness would be a given in a play of this nature, but apparently the unexpected can happen, even when it comes to health care. So forget about problems with your HMO or high insurance premiums - if laughter truly is the best medicine, a ticket to Goner is cheaper than most prescriptions and will likely prove just as effective a cure for what ails you.